Nitzsche discusses new produce for N.J. growers
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Rutgers University Extension agent Peter Nitzsche gave a short talk to a packed house of vegetable and fruit growers in March regarding the planned roll-outs of two new crops from RCE and the Ag Experiment Station.
Nitzsche is an agricultural and natural resources agent for Morris County and supervises field work at Rutgers’ Snyder Research Farm in Pittstown, off Rt. 78.
Farmers assembled are all members of the Central New Jersey Vegetable Growers’ Association.
They meet annually at Monmouth County’s agriculture building, near the Monmouth County Fair Grounds, here.
Nitzsche discussed yakon, also known as Peruvian ground apple, a native of the Andes mountains in Peru and Colombia, and the new Rutgers grape tomato, which is alleged to be super sweet in taste and have more resistance to cracking, something that could be marketed as a Jersey grape tomato to complement the existing varieties of conventional “Jersey’ tomatoes.
Yakon, Nitzsche said, has been touted as the next kale.
“The big thing is it contains fructooligosaccharides [found in garlic and onions,] compounds that make it taste sweet, yet low calorie. Yakons are also believed to do a lot of good for your gut microbiome. A lot of farmers up my way want to be doing fall and winter indoor farmers’ markets, and they want something different to attract new customers.”
Yakon is a root vegetable and the plants themselves can grow to as high as six feet, he said, displaying slides of yakon plants from Snyder Farm. Yakon and yakon syrup have been showcased on [New Jersey resident] Dr. Mehmet Oz’s national daytime TV program, as the syrup is believed to help people lose unwanted pounds.
“We’ve been growing it in 3-inch pots and they sprout and grow well in those pots and then transfer them to the field with some black plastic and mulch, no real herbicides,” he said.
Yakon can tolerate a light frost so can be grown into November and perhaps even December these days in New Jersey. It also seems to store pretty well, he said, noting, you want to keep them damp but not wet.
Yields from each rhizome can be anywhere from 12 to 18 pieces, he said, and one can increase yields over time by splitting them up, as one would with potatoes.
“It’s a long season crop, so we gave some rhizomes to Rick VanVranken down at RAREC [Rutgers’ Bridgeton facility,] and they have sandier soils down there,” he explained. Yakons grown in Bridgeton didn’t get quite as tall as they did in Pittstown in 2018 and south Jersey experienced drier conditions than central and northwest New Jersey did in 2019.
“In the last couple of years at Snyder Farm in Hunterdon County, we’ve gotten anywhere from four to six pounds per plant,” he said, “we’ve also shared rhizomes with a couple of growers and will be looking for more grower cooperation this year,” he said. Interested growers may contact Nitzsche at Snyder Farm for rhizomes.
Rutgers is also releasing its new Scarlet Sunrise grape tomato this year. Again, Nitzsche or others at Rutgers Cooperative Extension can provide seedlings or seeds for interested growers.
“Several years ago, Professor Tom Orton and I started on a quest to create a new grape tomato that would be distinct and maybe Jersey growers could market it as ‘select’ or ‘premier’ from New Jersey,” he said. Orton is one of many researchers working on numerous ag-related experiments at Rutgers’ development farm in Bridgeton.
“We were working on an heirloom tomato that tasted very very sweet, a cherry type, but it cracked a lot; so I discovered some pear shapes and some grape shapes. Dr. Orton crossed the heirloom and hybrid and with lots of back crossing and screening and working through the years to measure firmness, color, PH, sugar and shape, and now the end result is a bi-colored grape tomato of indeterminate type that has pretty high sweetness and moderate acidity,” he said, “but compared to the heirlooms you deal with, we have much less cracking on this new Scarlet Sunrise tomato.”
Nitzsche added: “Driving here today, I actually heard Dr. Tom Orton on the radio, discussing this new Scarlet Sunrise grape tomato, so we’ve already gotten a little publicity on this.”
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