The demand for fresh, local, and organic produce continues to rise, while area growers are seeking to produce quality fruit and vegetables. Here at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, one of the goals within the Horticulture Department is to support Minnesota's small fruit and vegetable growers through applied research. We've tackled many of the growing concerns that face producers: weed pressures, pests and disease, soil health, maximizing profit, and cultivar selection. Our hope is that our research findings can be helpful to those seeking to start or improve their own growing systems.
Cover Crops in High Tunnel Vegetable Production
High tunnels are a great tool for growing warm weather crops in Minnesota. The plastic captures heat from the sun so the growing season can start earlier, end later, and get hotter. These conditions help growers produce high quality early and late season tomatoes and peppers as well as specialty tropical crops like ginger and turmeric. High tunnels also improve crop quality by shielding fruit from rain and hail damage and preventing soil splashing which can cause disease.
While high tunnel production is characterized by increased productivity, due to intense cultivation strategies and intensive fertilization, these practices lead to some unusual soil health problems such as high salinity and low organic matter content. The WCROC high tunnel project evaluates inclusion of short-lived, fall planted cover crop legumes to improve soil fertility and quality in high tunnel environments. Cover Crop Management in High Tunnels
Grit Weeding for Weed Control
Weed management, particularly within rows of perennial fruit plants, is challenging. Because of the perenniality of these crops, rotation and tilling are not options. Growers might typically look to herbicides for in-row weed management; however, most herbicides are not labeled for use in fruit crops. For the few herbicides labeled, there are concerns about cost, environmental effects, and efficacy of products, especially on young plantings when crops are most vulnerable to weed pressure.
We are embarking on a new project using an abrasive grit (.pdf) to blast out weeds within rows of perennial fruit plants such as raspberries, apples, and grapes for with-in row weed management as an alternative to hand weeding, which can be time consuming and labor intensive Results and Analysis (.pdf)
Minnesota small-fruit growers need an environmentally acceptable system for producing annual strawberries to increase the supply of this high-value specialty crop. The low tunnel system requires hoop-like structures that go over the rows of strawberry plants. In addition, the strawberry plants must be planted into some type of mulch for adequate weed control and to maximize plant growth. Previously, we evaluated plastic mulch and landscape fabric for weed control, a challenge in strawberry production. However, in 2017 we evaluated the effectiveness of biodegradable mulch (.pdf) in the low-tunnel system for day-neutral strawberries.
Bell Pepper Varieties for the Home Garden
Bacterial leaf spot (BLS) and Phytophthora (PHY) diseases are a common problem for Minnesota bell pepper producers and if not detected and treated early enough, these diseases can kill the plants. There are cultivars that have resistance to these particular diseases but these cultivars must maintain yields similar to traditional cultivars in order to be desired by producers and buyers. Our goal was to determine any differences in performance between cultivars with and without resistance. Yield, fruit size and number of fruit per plant were the evaluated characteristics. Read more.