Hlubik: Tools available for N.J. organic farmers
SOUTH BRUNSWICK — A lot of the integrated pest research Middlesex County agriculture agent Bill Hlubik is doing now is in response to a growing number of organic farmers and farmers looking into organic transition, including landscaping companies, he told small-scale farmers recently at the Earth Center, a 400-acre tract of preserved open space that borders on North Brunswick and South Brunswick.
He said Rutgers Extension has developed manuals for both backyard vegetable growers and organic landscaping companies.
“A course in organic landscaping is offered here every January,” he told workshop attendees on April 4.
Contrary to popular belief, organic growers do use pesticides, Hlubik said.
To stay certified, organic farmers must use OMRI-approved pesticides, those given the nod of approval by the Organic Materials Research Institute, he said.
“Organic farmers have to use disease-resistant varieties of vegetables and pay careful attention to the rotation of their crops,” he said. “One organic farmer I know told me he is switching from heirloom varieties to hybrid tomatoes, because he just could not keep diseases out of them.
“Organic growers use pesticides, conventional growers use pesticides, and IPM growers use very strategic pesticides and they hope not to harm the beneficial insects.”
Hlubik told attendees that cover crops can be used in large and small backyard gardens as well as on larger farms like the one his family owns and operates not far from Bordentown.
“We used a lot of cover crops on our farm and you can do the same thing within your backyard garden. The weather is one thing we can’t control,” he noted, but using IPM techniques and using manure can be controlled.
He also recommends people search for reliable information on the Internet.
“You need to know where to get good information, because the Internet is filled with information that is not so great and TV shows also offer a lot of misinformation. It can be confusing,” Hlubik said.
“I’m trained as a plant pathologist,” he noted, “what you’ll find when you’re farming or gardening, there is often not just one solution for anything in terms of solving disease problems; there are many different factors involved,” and thus, many ways to solve a particular problem.
“When you come up with information that is based out of the agricultural Extension service around the U.S., those articles are peer reviewed, a lot of scientists have to look at those articles to make sure what they’re putting in those articles is accurate and factual,” he said, “before we release something we’re often doing research work for five and 10 years.”
Hlubik also offered words of caution about a new pest, the spotted lantern fly, which attacks about 60 different species of plants and sucks nutrients out.
“It seems like we have a new challenge every year or every other year that keeps us in business as plant pathologists and entomologists,” he said.
New Jersey farmers and backyard vegetable and fruit growers can report the spotted lantern fly on the bad bug hotline: 866-253-7189. Hlubik said the spotted lantern fly is about an inch long, ½ inch wide and has grayish and black wings.
Hlubik recommended soil tests, which can be done locally at the SEBS’ soil testing lab in New Brunswick.
He cautioned about the dangers of over-watering.
“When I was in graduate school, if we wanted to produce stress in plants, seedlings, vegetables, turf grass, to study diseases, what do you think we would do? We would over water and water late in the day so that the leaves stayed wet all evening, that’s one sure way to do damage to your plants,” he said.
He also noted depriving plants of water is another way to induce disease. He recommends drip irrigation for small-scale vegetable growers, as it’s easier to control the amount of water each plant gets.
Hlubik, also a professor of plant pathology at Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, teaches courses on campus and at the Earth Center, including “How to Start and Manage a Small Farm,” and “Are You Ready to Farm?”
“These courses are for anybody that has an interest in doing farming on a small scale. We typically have two or three classes each year that are aimed at small scale farmers,” he said, “and that could be a big backyard or it could be a couple of acres.”
Middlesex County Ag Extension Service employees will hold their free, annual open house this August 18 at the Earth Center. The event will combine educational seminars, produce competitions, and hands-on demonstrations with food and music all day long.