Late planting producing promising early results
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — Getting a research plot underway for pumpkins and strawberries at University of Maryland Eastern Shore took a better-late-than-never approach this year.
But last it turned out, planting late has yielded some interesting preliminary results.
Dr. Naveen Kumar, UMES assistant professor and Extension specialist, who led the first-year research project, said he wanted to test varieties of day-neutral strawberries — developed from everbearing plants to produce fruit in summer and into fall — and evaluate pumpkin production in a raised bed plasticulture system.
Weather was a key driver in the planting delay, he said. After finally getting a chance to make raised beds on the campus field, the two crops were planted on July 5.
For the strawberries, Kumar employed a low-tech, relatively inexpensive low tunnel system to help manage temperature, disease and other pests.
The low tunnels are constructed from PVC pipe, twine, duct tape and heavy-duty clear plastic sheeting that run the length of the row, creating a transparent canopy over the 180 strawberry plants in the trial.
By the first week of September he and his team were picking red berries from the plants and have continued harvesting. He said he wants to see if harvesting can last into November.
“It’s definitely helping,” he said of the tunnels, “and this plastic lasts for four years.”
Kumar added they will be looking at the low tunnels this winter to see how they perform in winter wind and snow.
Kumar said he’s been pleased with the production this year despite the late planting.
He estimated the better performing varieties in the trial are capable of producing two pints of strawberries per plant.
“This is wonderful, actually. It’s almost new research,” he said.”This experiment will become more productive next year.”
Kumar said about 20 farmers attended a recent workshop showcasing the project and many were interested in the system.
“They actually enjoyed a lot of my strawberries,” he said smiling about their impromptu taste testing. “Some of them told me ‘yes, we are going to build these tunnels.’”
Kumar said he expects to increase the strawberry trial for four varieties this year to 11 next year.
“I want what is available,” he said. “Why not test everything?”
Kumar’s overall goal in the trial, and with other fruit research he’s doing at UMES, is to bring back more fruit production on Delmarva and the Lower Eastern Shore. Somerset County’s Marion Station was once known as the Strawberry Capital of the World In the early 1900s, Delaware and Maryland each had about 7,000 acres in strawberries.
According to 2012 ag census data, Maryland has 187 farms growing strawberries on 220 acres. Meanwhile, strawberry consumption has almost doubled since 1994 and about 354 million pounds are imported annually outside the usual strawberry season.
Kumar said being able to offer local strawberries in the fall could help bring more customers to local farm stands.
“This thing will attract people,” he said. “You’ll have strawberries in October and people can pick a pumpkin, too.”
Directly next to the strawberry plot, Kumar planted large Prizewinner and carving-type pumpkins, also on July 5, on raised beds. He was somewhat surprised when he had harvestable pumpkins about 75 days after planting while the varieties’ maturity was rated at 90 to 120 days.
“I took a risk because I wasn’t expecting they would be mature two months after planting,” he said. “But I need to confirm this next year.”
Though he battled squash bugs repeatedly during the growing season, Kumar said he largely avoided problems with powdery mildew and downey mildew until late in the season when the pumpkins were near or at maturity.
He said the raised beds likely played a factor in the fast growth as well as applying fertilizer through the drip irrigation system four times during crop growth, but wants more years’ data to prove or disprove it.
Kumar also used white colored plastic instead of the more commonly used black plastic which may have impacted photosynthesis, reflecting more light to the plant rather than absorbing light and manipulating soil temperature.
“There are so many questions,” he said.
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