Archive | January, 2015

Lighting for Seedlings

Seedlings.tifPurdue University researchers’ success in using red and blue LEDs as the only source of light to grow ornamental plant seedlings indoors has led to a new phase of determining whether they can reduce production time with more colors. The research is important because most seedlings are grown in greenhouses in the late winter and early spring, a time when sunlight with enough growing power is low, especially in northern states. Seedlings need to grow at that time to meet spring and summer sales of bedding plants, so supplemental lighting from electric lamps is typically needed. The research shows that sole-source LED lighting could be used to grow ornamental plant seedlings indoors with a technique known as multilayer production, in which plants are stacked on top of each other on shelves such as in a warehouse where there is no sunlight. Some companies, especially in Japan, already use multilayer production for leafy vegetables.

This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Meet an Eco-Farmer: Vermont Valley Community Farm

Vermont Valley Community Farm Eco-Farmer

Vermont Valley Community Farm

Have you always been an eco-farmer, or did you make a change?

David was born and raised on a diversified Wisconsin family farm. We conventionally farmed for three years on a farm before this one. At Vermont Valley we’ve always farmed organically.

What was the biggest hurdle you have overcome?

I don’t know that there’s been a specific, big hurdle. There have been huge learning curves for 20 years, and the learning curves haven’t stopped. We were new at vegetable growing. We were new at being certified organic. We were new at CSA. We were new at all of this, and so along the way we just kept learning and growing.

Continue Reading →

Pickling on the Farm — Adding Value to Vegetables with Lacto-Fermentation

Kimchi production at Whistling Duck Farm.

Kimchi production at Whistling Duck Farm.

by Kirsten K. Shockey

“There’s a propane leak.”

“What?” I said looking up from the 80-quart bowl that had swallowed me up to my elbows. My mother’s husband stood in the doorway of our fermentation kitchen. His eyes were scanning the room. I pulled my hands out of shredded cabbage and salt. “We don’t have propane,” I said.

He continued glancing around the room. “Well then it must be natural gas. The smell is strong. It’s a sizeable leak.” His tone conveyed the gravity of our situation. “Our whole house smells like natural gas.” He and my mother live in a home built above our fermentation kitchen and accompanying aging rooms, the “kraut caves.”

“We really don’t have any propane on the property,” I explained.

He shook his head. “There’s a leak,” he said again. Continue Reading →

Maple Syrup Production Predictors

maple-syrupFor decades, maple syrup producers have eyed the weather to help understand spring sugar yields. But new research in the journal Forest Ecology and Management reveals a more valuable metric for understanding — and even predicting — syrup production: how many seed helicopters rained down from the trees the year before?

“Weather affects how much sap will flow out of the tree, but sap volume is only one piece of the puzzle,” said Josh Rapp, who as a postdoctoral fellow with Elizabeth Crone, associate professor of biology at Tufts University and senior author on the paper, analyzed the factors influencing 17 years of maple syrup production at 28 sites in Vermont.

What really matters to maple syrup producers, Rapp explains, is the amount of sugar in the sap: “Sugar maple sap is 2 to 3 percent sugar. The rest is just water to boil off. Sweeter sap is more profitable. If you start with sap that’s 3 percent sugar, it takes a third less sap to make a gallon of syrup.”

So, what predicts how much sugar is in the sap? “Not weather,” says Rapp. “Weather alone was a surprisingly bad predictor of how much sugar came out of the taps over those 17 years.” “That tells us there is something else at play.”

For several years, Rapp and Crone have been studying “mast” seeding events — years when trees collectively produce far more seeds than usual — at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. In sugar maples, mast seeding tends to occur every 2 to 5 years.

Recent mast seeding events occurred in Vermont in 2000, 2006 and 2011. Rapp’s research shows that in Vermont, syrup production declined following every mast seed year.

“Both seeds and sugar are made from carbohydrates stored in trees,” explains Crone. “When a tree produces a lot of seeds one summer, then the next spring, the carbohydrate bank account is low for making sugar. It’s a matter of budgeting resources.”

This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Natural Gene Selection for Orange Corn

cornPurdue researchers have identified a set of genes that can be used to naturally boost the provitamin A content of corn kernels, a finding that could help combat vitamin A deficiency in developing countries and macular degeneration in the elderly. Professor of agronomy Torbert Rocheford and fellow researchers found gene variations that can be selected to change nutritionally poor white corn into biofortified orange corn with high levels of provitamin A carotenoids — substances that the human body can convert into vitamin A. Vitamin A plays key roles in eye health and the immune system, as well as in the synthesis of certain hormones. “This study gives us the genetic blueprint to quickly and cost-effectively convert white or yellow corn to orange corn that is rich in carotenoids — and we can do so using natural plant breeding methods, not transgenics,” said Rocheford.

This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Diet Affects Pesticide Resistance in Honeybees


Feeding honeybees a natural diet of pollen makes them significantly more resistant to pesticides than feeding them an artificial diet, according to a team of researchers, who also found that pesticide exposure causes changes in expression of genes that are sensitive to diet and nutrition.

“Honeybees are exposed to hundreds of pesticides, while they are foraging on flowers and also when beekeepers apply chemicals to control bee pests,” said Christina Grozinger, professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Penn State. “Our study demonstrates that exposure to non-lethal doses of at least two of these pesticides causes large changes in the expression of genes involved in detoxification, immunity and nutrition-sensing. This is consistent with results from previous studies that have found that pesticide exposure compromises bees’ immune systems. Furthermore, our study reveals a strong link, at the molecular level, between nutrition, diet and pesticide exposure.”

Exploring this link further, the researchers found that diet significantly impacts how long bees can survive when given lethal doses of a pesticide.

This interaction between pesticide exposure and nutrition is likely what’s at play in our finding that feeding bees a complex diet of pollen — their natural diet — makes them significantly more resistant to lethal doses of a pesticide than feeding them a more simple, artificial diet,” said Daniel Schmehl, postdoctoral researcher, University of Florida.

This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.