Tips for Successful Urban Farming

(Jim) Good morning folks, welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host. And we’re in luck because we’re at the K-State Olathe Horticulture Research and Extension Center and we also have Dr. Cary Rivard, who is the Director of the Center and he is also the Research and Extension Specialist here at the station. He’s going to be talking to us about basically urban farming. So, I want you to grab your cup of coffee and come on back, we’ll start the show.Closed Captioning Brought to you by Ag Promo Source. Together we grow. Learn more at

(Jim) Good morning folks, welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host, and we’re in luck because we’re at the K-State Olathe Horticulture Research and Extension Center, which is on the corner of Johnson, Miami and Douglas counties. So, we’re getting almost three counties here. And with us we have our fruit and vegetable guy, Dr. Cary Rivard. And Cary thanks for joining us this morning. And our viewers are a lot of producers, OK, and we’re thinking mainly row crop and wheat, and that sort of thing. And not so much what the Horticulture Center here does, so I’m glad you’re with us this morning. So, kind of tell us the history of this center and what you’ve got going. (Cary) Sure. So, this center is a little bit different than most of the big ag experiment stations around the state. It was built in 1996, was when it was first established and it was actually the land was donated from the Army. We’re on an old Army ammunition plant. (Jim) Right, I remember that. (Cary) And the property that we’re actually standing on here never had any kind of munitions production. It was what they called the buffer zone, where essentially they didn’t want any debris to land on somebody’s house. So, they owned the land, but didn’t build anything here. But long story short, they donated the land to K-State to us in about 1996 and we have about 342 acres here. Now we really intensively manage about 80 to 100 of that. There’s also a couple hundred acres on the other side of the creek that aren’t very accessible. But we do research and extension with all horticulture crops. So, mainly focused on the fruit and , turf, and also floriculture. So the Prairie Star Floriculture Program is located here. We do a lot of work with our turf specialist that’s located in Manhattan. And then I help around the fruit and vegetable component of the station. (Jim) This is a really interesting, interesting site. Now, do you have a lot of producers? These would be urban producers basically. Do you have a lot of urban producers come to the center here? (Cary) We do and we also have a lot of rural producers as well. For example we had our Commercial Vegetable Field Day here just the other night. And we had people represented from all parts of Kansas. So, people, especially those that are looking for specific information about those topics, they’ll travel from all parts of the state to come here. (Jim) So, also related to Extension, we have Master Gardeners. (Cary) Of course. And the Master Gardeners are very involved here at the Research Station, both here in the Extension Master Gardener Backyard Garden but also volunteering on the farm as well. Johnson County has a very strong Master Gardener Program. I think there are over 500 Master Gardeners in the county right now and something like 11 or 12 demonstration sites. (Jim) This is one of the demonstration sites. (Cary) Yep, this is what we call the Backyard Demonstration Garden. And it’s a mixture of both vegetables and flowers, but this site in particular is really known to have a strong emphasis on food production. And we have a great group of volunteers. There’s about 55 Master Gardeners that are assigned to this area and they show up every Wednesday and they get more work done in two hours than the rest of us can do in two weeks. (Jim) Fifty-five of ‘em. (Cary) That’s right. Doesn’t hurt. (Jim) There are only four or five people here. (Cary) Well you know we’re a little bit out in the country here, so the Master Gardeners that come here, they’re kind of what we call the hardcore ones. They’re willing to come all the way out here, and visit us and they’re some of the hardest workers I’ve seen. They do some really creative and innovative things. (Jim) Well this is just a beautiful demonstration garden. I mean it’s just wonderful. Folks, stay with us we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host. And we’re still at the Kansas State Olathe Horticulture Research and Extension Center. And we have Cary Rivard; he is our fruit and vegetable guy over here at Olathe Station. And we’re under a high tunnel here and we’ve got some interesting things here. You don’t normally see this late in the season-strawberries. (Cary) It’s very unusual to see strawberries this time of year, absolutely. (Jim) So, tell me what we have here. (Cary) So, what this is, this is an experiment looking at the production of Day-Neutral varieties of strawberries grown inside the high tunnel. (Jim) Now Day-Neutral is a little bit different than what our normal strawberry grower in the backyard would grow. (Cary) Correct. So what that means Day-Neutral varieties are new. They’re typically coming out of California and Florida breeding programs. And as opposed to traditional strawberries that need the days to get shorter and then longer in order to start flowering, they will actually immediately start flowering once they’re planted. So, for example this tunnel was planted on April 17th and we were harvesting fruit by the end of May. (Jim) This year? (Cary) This year, correct. (Jim) Wow, wow, OK. So how long will these strawberries live under this high tunnel? (Cary) So strawberries are perennial plants. So, they would live as long as we allow them to. But this is an annual system, so we’ll rip them out about the middle of October, pretty much once we’re tired of picking strawberries. Because at some point the graduate students don’t like that so much. (Jim) OK, continue what we have here. (Cary) So basically what you’re looking at is a variety trial grown under the high tunnel. We have six varieties of Day-Neutral berries. Now one of our big questions when we put this experiment together was, one, what varieties would do the best, but also what’s gonna be able to survive the heat that we have here in Kansas? So we’re using shade cloth under the high tunnel and then we’re also implementing this system called evaporative cooling where we actually turn on the sprinklers on the strawberries for about five minutes at the heat of the day and then when that water evaporates, it takes that heat energy with it. So, it’s a nice way to cool the plants down during the middle of the day. Now, the big question we have is if we’re doing that, what’s the effect gonna have on the botrytis, and other fungal molds and fruit rots as well as fruit quality. So all of the fruit that gets harvested from this trial goes over to the K-State Olathe Campus where they do post harvest studies looking at decay, shelf life quality and nutritional quality as well too. (Jim) Of course, there are differences in varieties as well, of course. (Cary) Absolutely, we’re seeing lots of difference in varieties and we’re also seeing some effects of the evaporative cooling system as well too. (Jim) Right. Hold onto that thought about the evaporative cooling system. You know most listeners here are producers and they know corn variety performance tests, and sorghum and soybean and wheat variety performance tests, but we actually have different varieties here and you can kind of see that some are faring much, much better under these conditions as opposed to some of the others like the one right behind you here, it’s not doing so well. So obviously that one will be chucked. (Cary) Absolutely. (Jim) How long is this study going to last? (Cary) So this study is the second year of a two-year study. Depending on the results we see, we may do it again next year, but right now, it’s part of our Master’s student thesis and so she’ll be wrapping up her thesis work this fall. (Jim) OK. Cary, don’t go away. You folks at home, don’t go away either. Grab your cup of coffee and come on back. We’ll be here after you get back.

(Jim) I’m Jim Shroyer. And what you’re looking at is the top of a high tunnel and we’re still in this strawberry production high tunnel system here. And we’ve got Cary Rivard with us. We were talking about strawberry production under this system under the high tunnel and going well into the summer months. But not everybody wants to spend a whole bunch of money on these things. They’d have to be really serious strawberry producers. What about just somebody that has in the back yard or two or three acres of trying to make some money off of it as well? So talk to us about strawberry production not under the high tunnel. (Cary) Sure, so we work with a lot of farmers here in the area that have U-Pick operations in particular. And they’ll typically plant strawberries in plastic culture raised beds. They’re eight to nine inch tall beds. (Jim) OK. (Cary) And those plastic beds are made with a machine that actually forms the bed and then the… (Jim) Lays down the plastic. (Cary) Lays down the drip tape and the plastic all in one pass. Now in that system they’re typically planted around the first of September up until the 15th. And then they’re harvested during the month of May. So, it’s a great crop for a U-Pick grower because it’s a nice way to bring those folks in early in the season before their peaches and their blackberries start to come on. What we’re looking for with our research is we’re investigating the use of the annual plastic culture system. Strawberries are typically grown…not typically, but historically have been grown in a perennial system, where you use matted row and straw mulch during the winter time, but in order for that to work you have to keep those plants alive all summer. And that costs a lot of water and it’s also very difficult for the growers to be successful at. So with these annual plastic culture systems, we plant ‘em in the fall and harvest them in the spring, and clean out the field, put in a cover crop and then restart the whole system at the end of September. (Jim) I interrupted you again, May is when you pick them or have them picked? (Cary) Correct, yea. (Jim) Then when would you destroy them? (Cary) So, probably about the first or the 15th of June. Kind of depends on the season. (Jim) Right. (Cary) It’s real variable on how cool or warm our springs are. (Jim) So, how do you kill ‘em? A herbicide or just tear ‘em out by the root? (Cary) We actually just do ‘em with a flail mower and just mow ‘em off right on top of the beds and then just till it back into the soil. (Jim) OK. Please continue. Proceed. (Cary) Sure. So the research that we’re doing because this annual system is pretty new for the area, we’re trying to develop better ways to protect that crop during the winter. Now, here in the Midwest if you’re gonna grow in an annual system, you want to actually cover those strawberries with what we call floating row cover during the winter, which is basically a frost protection blanket. So, we’re doing research to determine the thickness and the application of that row cover to reduce the incidence of winter injury on those plants. (Jim) Is that row cover, is it plastic? (Cary) It’s a spun-bonded, polyethylene fabric. (Jim) I’m sure it’s black. (Cary) No, it’s white actually. (Jim) Oh really? So what, so light penetrates through it? (Cary) It’s so that it penetrates through it. But also what we’re finding with our research has been really interesting, is that the white and also the thicker row cover reflects some of that sun back on warm days. So one of the things that we’re trying to do with that work is keep those plants dormant all through the winter. (Jim) Oh, I see. (Cary) If we get a warm day in January or early February it’s gonna warm up those beds and it’s gonna actually wake them up preemptively and cause more winter injury. So, we’re actually finding with our research the thicker fabric is not only helpful because it helps keep those really cold temperatures off, but it helps moderate the temperature underneath the row cover. (Jim) OK, I see the logic there. Don’t go away. You folks at home don’t go away we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host and we have Dr. Cary Rivard. He’s our fruit and vegetable guy here at the K-State Olathe Horticulture Research and Extension Center. Cary, we’ve been talking about strawberries, OK, under high tunnels. What exactly is a high tunnel and how’s it used and is it for everybody and cost, that sort of thing? (Cary) That’s a great question. So, high tunnels are basically unheated greenhouses. If you ask an engineer, they’re really not the exact same thing in that the wind loads and snow loads are a little bit differently. They’re not a stamped, engineered plan like a greenhouse is, it’s really a non-permanent structure. (Jim) OK, it’s not stationary. (Cary) Correct. And for that purpose it’s not insured in the same way that a greenhouse is. But to the average Joe, if you look at one it basically looks like a greenhouse, has many of the same components. The big difference from a growing perspective is that in a high tunnel, we typically don’t have a permanent heating and cooling system. (Jim) Right. (Cary) So they’re heated by the sun and they’re cooled by the wind essentially. And then we typically grow straight in the soil. We’re not growing in soil that’s culture or hydroponics or anything like that. We’re actually growing directly in the soil underneath. So, that’s the big differences between a greenhouse and a high tunnel. Now, there are a couple of different types of high tunnels. There’s what we call three-season high tunnel and four season high tunnels. This is a three season high tunnel that we’re in here. And the reason we call it that is we actually have to take the poly off during the wintertime because it can’t hold the snow load. The structure of this high tunnel just literally can’t hold the weight. (Jim) If you were to have a 6 inch or 12 inch snow? (Cary) Twelve inch. (Jim) It would collapse. (Cary) Exactly. Now our four season high tunnels are typically a lot more rigid. The roof is a bit more peaked and so they can shed some snow. And typically growers will plant cool season crops like spinach and lettuce and other things during the winter and be able to pull those crops out throughout pretty much the entire winter period. One of the things that have happened in the last few years is through the program promoted by NRCS, the EQIP Program, there’s actually a cost share for high tunnels. And so just in Kansas alone there’s been more than 400 high tunnels built in the last four years, specifically for growers to grow fruit and vegetable crops and take them to market. (Jim) So, where is that located? I mean all across the state? (Cary) All across the state. (Jim) Or more over in the northeast, you know around Olathe and the Kansas City area? (Cary) You know the reality is local production follows local populations. So, around here, the Lawrence and Kansas City areas, there are lots and lots of high tunnels. As we go out farther west they’re a little bit more sparse, but they’re actually even more important out there because we have such bad issues with our wind and the heat, especially late in the summer. The high tunnels are a critical component to being able to produce fruit and vegetables in western Kansas especially. (Jim) Now there’s a question that you hear people talking about, this is a way from high tunnel a bit, but buying local is better. So, I’m sure you’re under the camp that that’s the case. (Cary) Right, right sure. I support local farmers here in the state of Kansas. And most of our growers here are not selling to a national market; they’re selling at the local markets, especially around the larger cities like Wichita and Kansas City and Lawrence. (Jim) And a high tunnel is a perfect…it gives you a little more flexibility other than just the May, June, July, maybe August. (Cary) So what we typically say for a high tunnel, is it’s gonna give you about 30 days a season extension both in the spring and in the fall. But here in Kansas they actually do a lot more for just environmental protection and protecting from the storms and the hot wind and all those kinds of things throughout the course of the whole summer. And we find especially for high value crops like tomatoes and peppers, even in a year that’s not bad for growing outdoors, the ones inside the high tunnels do a lot better, they’re a lot more consistent, you get a lot higher marketability from the produce. (Jim) Basically the overall quality, the marketable quality’s better. (Cary) Exactly, exactly. (Jim) Don’t go away, I’ve got some more questions for ya. (Cary) All right, sounds good. (Jim) You folks at home, now’s your chance to get your cup of coffee and hurry on back. After these words from our sponsors we’ll get started again.

(Jim) I see you’ve got that cup of coffee in your hand. Welcome back to That’s My Farm. We’re here at the K-State Olathe Horticulture and Research and Extension Center and with us, Cary Rivard. And Cary we talked about high tunnel production and what other studies do you have? I see you have blueberries here. And blueberries in Kansas is kind of an odd thing. But what else do you have going on? (Cary) So, we’re doing a lot of work really trying to help our growers that are using high tunnels to produce their crops. One of the things we do a lot of focus on is with tomatoes and specifically grafting of tomatoes. So we actually graft a tomato onto a wild relative of the tomato in order to increase the yield and also reduce the incidence of soil born disease pressure. One of the things that can be challenging in a high tunnel… (Jim) That’s really interesting. (Cary)…because you’re not able to rotate as much, often times soil borne diseases can be a problem. So, we’re doing a lot of work there, looking at different root stocks that perform well for tomatoes. We also have a lot of variety trial testing in high tunnels. We’re currently testing 10 varieties of peppers as well as tomatoes and we publish that through the Midwest Vegetable Variety Trial Report that comes out of Purdue University. And then of course, we’ve already talked a little bit about our strawberry work looking at different Day-Neutral varieties to grow in the high tunnel. And then we’re also doing some interesting work looking at soil microbial communities within the high tunnels as well, trying to determine how the impact of the high tunnel system actually affects the soil microbial biology. (Jim) Biologically speaking or thinking, that could be different than say an outdoor system. (Cary) It’s a very different environment. Keep in mind that it doesn’t rain in a high tunnel and particularly in a four season high tunnel. And so soil management is a critical importance in order to be proactive, we need to use cover crops and compost and things like that to make sure that we have good, healthy soil underneath that high tunnel. (Jim) You have some asparagus down here but that’s not under the high tunnel. You’ve got some berries, blackberries. (Cary) We actually have some Primocane fruiting blackberries. So these are actually blackberries developed from the University of Arkansas. And unlike traditional blackberries which fruit on their second year of growth, these actually fruit on the first year of growth. So, what’s nice about that is you can obviously get a harvest a little bit quicker. But it also means that it’s basically a late summer to fall producing berry. as opposed to the Floricane varieties which produce in the early summer. So, we are working with a lot of growers that are basically doing mixtures of both Floricane fruit and Primocane fruiting… (Jim) So, they have whole season. (Cary) Exactly, extend their season. (Jim) Cause you know, other production is gonna be, everybody else is producing at the same time, prices go down so you gotta extend that season, you’re gonna get some higher prices in theory, later in the season. (Cary) That’s exactly right. And it just helps diversify and develop your market too because you can keep those people coming back for more goods. (Jim) OK, so what else do you have? (Cary) So, we also do a lot of variety trials through the All America Selections Program and we have diversity crops, hot peppers, melons, butternut squash, all kinds of things that we involve in that Variety Trial Program and then we also have a big effort to look at soil quality and we’re doing some work with no till pumpkin production. So, under no till systems for pumpkins we actually grow a cover crop up in the fall, we roll it down with a machine called the roller crimper and then we plant the pumpkins right through the residue. (Jim) I’ll be darn. (Cary) So, we’re doing some work looking at different cover crop mixtures, as well as integrating spring planted cover crops for those pumpkin growers, cause the last thing you really want to do if you’re a pumpkin farmer is go back onto the field on October 15th and try and clean everything up and plant cover in a period of a couple days. (Jim) Cary, I really appreciate you… (Cary) Thank you. You’re welcome any time. (Jim) …taking time to talk to us about the field here, the station here and enjoyed the diversity basically. (Cary) Thanks for coming. (Jim) Folks, thanks for being with us as well and don’t forget next Friday about this same time we’re gonna have another issue of That’s My Farm. See ya then.

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