Despite the summer weather of yesterday(!), fall is definitely upon us here at Woodman Farm. And, we are STILL picking from our strawberry plots.
However, we have made some adjustments to our management practices to account for the cooler and more variable fall weather.
1 - - TUNNEL MANAGEMENT
Due to potentially freezing temperatures on the night of October 10, we decided it was time to lower the sides of the tunnels permanently for the season. It was our goal to wait as long as possible to do this (until day-time temperatures were cool) so temperatures inside the tunnels were not too hot when closed.
Since lowering the sides, they have only been raised for harvesting purposes. We found this process of raising the sides and lowering the sides for harvest very easy (and surprisingly not frustrating!) due to the nature of this particular low-tunnel system (Dubois Agrinovation). The bungee elastics which secure the plastic to the hoops keeps the plastic in place, preventing it from sliding down on you or your hands while harvesting. It is also easy to pull back down.
2 - - HARVEST SCHEDULE
Once sides were lowered on October 10, we decided to decrease our harvest days to once/week. This increase in harvesting interval was also due to a slower pace of berry ripening. Since making this adjustment, we have harvested only once, but it was a large and high quality harvest. There were no over-ripe fruit - so weekly harvests appear to be completely appropriate for this variety and time of year. As a side note - fruit have tasted sweet and been of high eating and visual quality. We expect this week's warm temperatures to provide us with another large harvest next week.
Like in all agricultural systems, we have been experiencing some challenges recently that we are continuing to investigate. We have lost some plants to wilting. A sample brought to UNH's Plant Diagnostic Lab found several pathogens, including Fusarium in the sample, but we are not certain this is the main culprit. Further investigation in our field turned up many, many grubs around the base of some of our plants. We are still in the process of identifying the grub species, but they have been found eating the roots and in the crown of the plant. We believe their damage to the roots and crown of the plant has had a great impact on the growth of many of our plants, and most likely explains the stunted and discoloration in some of our plots. We will provide additional information on this pest as we learn more details in the coming days. However, due to it's damage we may decide not to over-winter the study and will certainly need a game plant for managing this pests in next year's trials.
For now, our plan is to continue harvesting as long as possible, but with a hard frost on the horizon, this may not be as long as we hope! Stay tuned for more updates and visit the Sideman Lab website to learn about other projects we are working on!
This project is funded by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and Tunnel Berries, a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant titled "Optimizing Protected Culture for Berry Crops" in collaboration with the following universities: