Innovating in increments

Friday, February 16, 2024

 Optimizing your production system is a daunting task. It’s easy to get lost in internet spirals promising to double your yields with one easy change... Fighting through the click-bait is challenging.

One of the most attainable ways of optimizing your farm is to make small easily achievable changes across several factors of your operation instead of trying to make one big change that could work but is harder to achieve and inherently riskier.

Relatively small changes can have incrementally huge impacts on your operation. Here are some resources to help make small but meaningful changes to your operation:

- Plastic mulches are not created equal. The type of plastic mulch you choose to use will dramatically affect your yield for a relatively minor change in input costs:

 See this demonstration that we carried out last year as an example: https://www.novascotiavegetableblog.com/2023/12/your-choice-of-mulch-dramatically.html

- Optimize your organic amendments based on nutrient release and be mindful of soil temperatures. Organic amendments require mineralization to release plant-available nutrients. When your soils are cold/wet in the spring very few nutrients are made available to your crops. Consider applying an immediately plant-available nutrient supplement until your microbes are active in your soil system.

See this fact-sheet for more information on nitrogen mineralization: https://ofcaf.perennia.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2023/09/Nitrogen-Mineralization-from-Organic-Fertility-Sources_3.pdf

- Switching to targeted biopesticides where possible can help eliminate pathogens while maintaining diverse and ‘beneficial’ microbial populations in your soils and on your plants.

See this fact-sheet for more information on biopesticides: https://www.perennia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Biopesticides-Fact-Sheet-Final.pdf

Check out our YouTube channel for more ideas and suggestions for ways to optimize your systems. There are hundreds of videos specific to our climate and soils ranging from soil testing, marketing, cover cropping, to calving lambs and everything in between.

https://www.youtube.com/@nsperennia/videos

Hopefully you’re having a good start to the season!

Tim

Tunnel Talk(s) in 2024

Thursday, December 28, 2023

 Introducing the latest addition to Perennia’s extension portfolio, TunnelTalk


This series aims to provide a recurring virtual space for producers of all shapes and sizes to come together and discuss all things protected agriculture. The main topic for discussion will vary month to month, with outside expertise on relevant topics, grower roundtables, shared experiences with techniques and technology, and group troubleshooting. This series of meetings is intended to be driven by grower feedback, so if there are any topics you'd like to see featured in these meetings, don't hesitate to communicate them! 

Upcoming sessions:

January 10 from 8:30-9:30 with Guest Speaker Anna Teston

The main topic of discussion will be anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD). Join our in-house protected crop specialist and Anna Teston to hear about her research in this space and experience conducting ASD on farm. Anna is a Research Plant Pathologist with the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Her research program focuses on developing disease management strategies for horticultural crops in controlled environment agriculture, including high tunnels. She has been studying ways to reduce the impacts of soilborne diseases in high tunnels, including the use of anaerobic soil disinfestation, grafting and soil steaming.

This session will start off with a presentation, followed by participant questions. As always, there will be space for a general round table to voice concerns/pain points/success stories amongst the group after the main presentation.

February 7 from 8:30 - 9:30 with Guest Speaker Caitlin McCavour

The main topic of discussion will be nutrient management planning in soil-based systems. Join our in-house protected crop specialist and soil specialist for a discussion on some of the unique challenges tunnel and greenhouse spaces present when it comes to nutrient management planning. This session will start off with a presentation from Caitlin McCavour, followed by grower questions. As always, there will be space for a general round table to voice concerns/pain points/success stories amongst the group. 

March 13 from 8:30 - 9:30 with Guest Speaker Dr. Anissa Poleatewich

Dr. Anissa Poleatewich will summarize her work examining biological-based product efficacy against botrytis! 

Stay tuned for quarterly updates on upcoming dates and topics. For registration and question submission, visit our website!


Hope to see you there

-Talia 

Your choice of mulch dramatically affects plant growth and yield!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

 This year we carried out demonstrations on 3 biodegradable mulches and 3 non-biodegradable mulches to see how they compare in a sweet potato production system here in Nova Scotia.

As horrible as this year turned out to be, it was the perfect year to trial plastic mulches as for many they made the difference between growing a marketable crop.. or not. Sweet potatoes are a challenging crop to grow in N.S, they need a long season with warm soils to produce tubers that make grade.

We demonstrated six different mulches, 3 biodegradable, and 3 nondegradable to test a variety of colours and thicknesses/material. There was a 30% difference in yields between the highest and lowest performers as well as differences in tuber grades (sizing) for each mulch. Before I talk about the treatments, it’s important to remember that this is not a replicated trial; the results highlight striking differences between mulches, but this is by no means conclusive.

Treatments:

-          Dubois, black, 1 mil embossed plastic (non-degradable)

-          Heartnut Grove, green, 1 mil (non-degradable)

-          Solar Shrink, black, 0.5 mil (non-degradable)

-          Film Organic “88”, black, 0.8 mil (biodegradable)

-          Dubois Bio360, black, 0.5 mil (biodegradable)

-          Dubois Bio360, clear, 0.5 mil (biodegradable)

Method:

-          3 rows, 400ft long, of each of each mulch was laid on June 13, 2023. Raised beds were 10" high, 28" wide.

-          Slips planted in late June. Management practices identical to rest of field (fertility, pesticides, etc)

-          12ft sections from each row were harvested Sept 19. Weighed for above and below ground biomass; tubers graded with a standard sizing board (<1.5”; 1.5” – 2.0”; 2.0” – 3.5”; >3.5”).

Results:

The table 1 below details specific results, with green highlighting showing the best performer in each category/column. Here are some brief takeaways:

-          The three non-degradable mulches produced the highest grade A (2” – 3.5”) tubers.

-          The green mulch produced the highest average weight per tuber (160 g) and stimulated root growth over shoot growth (root to shoot ratio).

-          The two Dubois biodegradable mulches were slightly too thin. The black 0.5 mil adequately controlled weeds but was severely degraded by September. The clear 0.5 mil had ruptured by July 20th and was overrun by weeds.

-          From these results I would recommend choosing a black biodegradable mulch no thinner than 0.6 mil and a clear biodegradable mulch no thinner than 0.8 mil.

-          We did not assess the cost difference between each mulch or consider the added cost of removing nondegradable mulches at the end of the season. These costs needed to be factored in to determine the profitability of using each mulch.

Table 1. results of mulch demonstration


    Please reach out to me at tmorcom@perennia.ca to discuss mulches, our results, or your plans for next year.


    Tim












Cover Cropping Question Bonanza!

Monday, December 11, 2023

Interested in an opportunity to discuss your farm-specific cover crop questions with a Perennia specialist? Check out two upcoming virtual events, where the entire session is driven by YOU! Questions can be submitted beforehand, or live during the event, as your ideas are sparked by discussion happening in real time. 

'Cover Crops - Ask Us Anything!' taking place December 13 @ Noon 

Did you try cover cropping for the first time in 2023? Been doing it for a while but struggled with the wet conditions? Whatever your questions about cover crops, we’ve got answers!  


As a follow-up to last year’s Cover Crops: Ask Us Anything webinar, join Perennia cover crop experts Berry Specialist Sonny Murray and Fields Crops Specialist Caitlin Congdon for a live question-and-answer webinar about cover crops! Attendees are encouraged to submit questions in advance and join us on December 13 at noon to hear the answers and tune into the discussion.

Registration details can be found here!

'Cover Crops and Split Nutrient Application - Ask Us Anything! (Protected Ag Edition)' taking place February 6 @ Noon

This session takes a look at cover cropping and split nutrient applications in protected spaces! A spin-off inspired by the session listed above, this is a great opportunity to ask any questions you may have about implementing these practices in your tunnels. 

Join Perennia’s subject experts, Protected Crop Specialist Talia Plaskett, Berry Specialist Sonny Murry and Fields Crops Specialist Caitlin Congdon, for a live question-and-answer webinar! We will also be featuring two season farmers as well, to give their two cents on their own experience, and comment on practice feasibility. Where cover crops are a relatively new practice to protected spaces, we still have a lot to learn. The more perspectives we can bring to the table to come up with a solution, the better! 


Attendees are encouraged to submit questions in advance and join us live on February 6 at noon to hear the answers and tune into the discussion.
 Registration information can be found here!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

-Talia

Interpreting a Compost Analysis

Monday, December 4, 2023

The incorporation of compost into your production spaces is a great way to recycle nutrients and carbon back into the soil, turning waste into something that will feed future crops and soil microbes. The variety of materials incorporated into compost, however, is highly variable. Plant residue, municipal solid waste, food processing waste, pulp or paper mill solids, manure and seafood wastes are all contenders for being included in a compost. The range of materials, each with their own broad ranges of nutrient concentrations, makes it a highly inconsistent product between batches, even where the supplier remains consistent. This variation in composition is going to have implications for nutrient management planning year to year - we can't necessarily apply the same volume from year to year and expect the same impact on our soils. 

In order to approach our nutrient management and compost applications with increased accuracy, it is recommended to submit compost samples for analysis. Nova Scotia's provincial lab services offer this as an option, and the report will break down the nutritional composition of the compost for next season's planning. Once we can better quantify the amount of nitrogen (and other key nutrients) in the compost, application volumes and a plan for additional supplementation throughout the growing season can be put together to meet the crop needs, and reduce accidental over-fertilization. 

For greenhouse soils, where all overhead precipitation has been excluded, compost analysis is especially important. Some composts tend to run high in salts (ex. calcium, magnesium etc), and while these are crucial nutrients for crop production, it is important that they are not being over-supplied to the soils. With a lack of a seasonal reset via rain and snow in protected spaces, these salts can accumulate quickly over time, impacting crop health and productivity. 

Now that we have the data...what does it mean?!

The Department of Agriculture has an interpretation document outlining the line items included in a compost analysis report and the impact that each nutrient has on crop production. Once you have a good understanding of what is included in the report, Perennia has created a fact sheet that provides further information on some of the metrics included, and the implications that these metrics have on our nutrient management plan. Below is a brief summary of some of the information presented in the factsheet, but I highly recommend you check it out for yourselves! 

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Finished composts typically contain low levels of a wide variety of nutrients (though this is highly dependent on the materials included in the mix). This lower level of nutrients can translate to a tendency to apply large volumes of compost, however this can lead to excessive levels of certain nutrients in the soil in some cases. It is typically recommended that compost is not the sole fertility source for crops, but one of a handful of additives that come together to provide the target nutrient ranges for the crop in question. 

C:N Ratios

The amount of carbon present in a compost, in relation to nitrogen, impacts nutrient cycling, and how quickly nutrients will become plant available. Composts typically range from 8:1 - 30:1. If your compost has a ratio:

  •  >40:1, there is a good chance that any nitrogen that is present in the soil/compost will be 'tied up' through the process of breaking down carbon. This can lead to nitrogen deficiencies in your crop.
  • 12-22:1, there is more nitrogen available than the microbes need, meaning it will become plant available more readily
  • 25-32:1, it will slowly become plant available over the course of a few years.

Nitrogen

The provincial lab analysis of compost reports on total nitrogen in the sample, however nitrogen has many forms in compost. 'Organic nitrogen', which is the nitrogen included in microbial, animal and plant tissues, is not immediately plant available. It must be mineralized in the N cycle before a plant is able to take it up and use it for growth. The rate of mineralization is difficult to forecast, as it is dependent on a handful of variables (temperature, moisture, C:N ratio of the compost). When compost is the only source of nitrogen in a production system, it is challenging to match the times of peak demand for the crop, with the availability of high amounts of useable (i.e. mineral) N. 

'Mineral nitrogen', specifically ammonium-nitrogen (NH4-N) and nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N), are the plant-available forms of nitrogen. While these are key forms for plant production, they are easily lost to the environment if they aren't immediately taken up.

How do we know the amount of available nitrogen that is present in our compost analysis? Low N composts typically have low mineral (readily available) nitrogen. High N composts usually carry a fair amount of NO3-N, which is immediately plant available. Take a look at the table below, which estimates the breakdown of organic and mineral N based on your C:N ratio, and the total N (% dry weight). This chart was taken from Perennia's fact sheet linked above, and sheds some light on the percentage of organic, or plant -unavailable, nitrogen in a compost. 


From here, we can calculate how much compost we need to add in addition to our other amendments, in order to meet the target N needs of the crop in question. 

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Utilizing and understanding the tools available to us is a key step in maximizing on-farm productivity, and the inputs invested on the farm. Compost analysis, along with soil tests and water tests, are great ways to quantify and characterize our key production components, and figure out how they can work together to hit our crop-specific nutrient targets without overshooting them. 

For those who are interested in better understanding their compost analysis results, check out Perennia's fact sheet here, or contact your commodity specialist for further discussion! 

-Talia 


Finishing up 2023

Monday, November 27, 2023

 As we finish up our 2023 growing seasons, it is time to re-visit our standard cleaning procedures. Throwing out the old and preparing for the new is one of the most important components to protected production.


While this is going to look different for those in soil-based systems compared to those who are set up hydroponically, there are some key practices that can be adapted to any protected space:

  1. Removing ALL organic matter from the greenhouse, and greenhouse vicinity
    • dried up leaves, old soil, dirty pots and growing supplies are perfect hiding spots for pests and disease to overwinter. Its important that you eliminate as much potential habitat and food source as possible
    • Don't hesitate to do this in stages. Clean out the big stuff, and come back a second and third time to get rid of the bits and pieces that were not picked up the first few times. 
    • Do not leave piles of plant material or old soil next to your greenhouse. As much as these serve as habits inside the production space, they will do the exact same thing outside. No matter how well the inside is cleaned, if you have a major source of insects just steps away from the greenhouse...there will be problems
  2. Collect all old growing supplies from the year, and remove from the space for cleaning. Pots, carrier trays, pruners, clips, support stakes/string etc. should be dealt with to reduce pathogen and pest load into the new production cycle. Pots, carrier trays and pruners can all be sterilized and re-used, but be aware of the cleaning agent used here - some are going to cause more harm than good! Wooden stakes, while tempting to re-use these, cannot properly be sterilized because they are highly porous. Disease transfer from year to year from re-using stakes is possible.
  3. Consider swapping out ground cover if you are using something more substantial than plastic mulch! While this isn't something typically tackled on a yearly basis, following a heavy disease year it can be worth considering getting a new cover put over the ground. If you are considering this, remove the old cover before going forward with suds and sanitizer! That way your ground layer will be scrubbed back to a base layer of clean, and you can be confident that nothing is hiding out in tiny cracks and crevices throughout the old ground cover.
  4. Lets get soapy!
    • Giving all growing surfaces a soapy scrub is going to grab hold of any bacterial, viral and fungal agents that are still in the space and wash them away. 
    • The best strategy for washing a greenhouse is to start at the top and work down - and this includes your ceiling! Failure to wash the top of the grow space creates a disease bank that can literally rain down on your future crop.
    • Once you have applied your soap, give the production space a thorough rinse and allow it to air dry
  5. Once you have allowed the space to airdry after cleaning, it is time to bring in the big guns- Sanitizer! There are a lot of sanitizers on the market to chose from, but they do have a few things in common:
    • Contact time is important. Different products have different required contact times in order to be effective. Be sure to check what the required contact time is for your product of choice, and do your best to adhere by that. Otherwise there is no guarantee that the product will sterilize to the degree that you are hoping for
    • Organic matter will de-activate sterilizing agents. Any of those leaves or soil bits that got left behind in pots and seeding trays will actually render your product useless. 
    • Consider how corrosive your cleaning agent is. Bleach is effective, but does impact the longevity of growing equipment, both for plastics and other materials.
    • TEMPERATURE. Sanitizer efficacies significantly decrease at lower temperatures. While it is difficult to justify heating a protected space for cleanout, it is a key factor in maximizing your product efficacy.

Here are a few other considerations for your end-of season wrap-up:

-Once the production space and tools have been cleaned, be conscious of what is coming into the space. Just because you aren't actively growing plants, doesn't mean you are immune to accidental spread! Clean clothes/shoes/growing supplies should be the only thing that enter the space for as long as possible to maintain the clean slate.

-For those who are growing in soil, producers should consider removing plastic on spaces that are not being used for production. The lack of rainwater coming onto your tunnel soils will result in the accumulation of salts in the soil. One of the best ways to tackle this is to allow the snow and rain that come with the winter to run through the soil. Come growing season, this will allow for better uptake and use of supplemented nutrients, and less stress caused by buildup over time. Plastic removal can be a pain, so even doing so every few years is going to be hugely beneficial. For more information on soil salinity in high tunnels, check out this fact sheet!

-Looking to maximize the performance of over-wintered cover crops? Unheated, double poly inflated greenhouses are not going to give enough protection from those cold winter nights. The addition of one or two layers of ground cover can work wonders for your cover crop, reducing large fluctuations in temperature and buffering against cold snaps. It also helps to protect soil moisture for your cover crop. As our day lengths turn around, these plants will see a huge boost in productivity in February and March, increasing the amount of in-house biomass generated to be worked back into the soil before bringing in the cash crop. 

Row cover is best installed after a cold snap or two in the greenhouse space. This should function to kill some of the pests that may still residing in the space, before adding the additional layer of protection


Here's to a fresh start!

Posted by: Talia Plaskett

Join us tomorrow to be a part of the minor use pesticide priority selection process

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

 The session for field and greenhouse vegetable crops will take place virtually via Zoom on Wednesday, November 22 from 10 AM to 12 PM. 

Perennia’s minor use representative, Michelle Cortens, and the provincial minor use coordinator Deney Augustine Joseph will briefly outline the process. Then as a group you will be guided through the different crops to assess the priority pest control needs for insects, weeds/growth regulators, and diseases. If you have potential solutions on your radar (products registered in other crops or for other uses) or have heard of products you might be interested in, please bring those along as well.

 Any grower is welcome to attend, so if you know of someone who would like to attend please let me know so I can include them on the contact list. If you can’t make the meeting, please send us your critical pest issues and any potential solutions for consideration at the meeting.

The selected priorities will then be submitted on behalf of the province and used in ranking the national priorities.

If you are interested in attending, please contact tplaskett@perennia.ca or tmorcom@perennia.ca for the meeting link and password.

 - Tim