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Extension Vegetable Program Completed Projects

Cucurbit downy mildew causes yellowing and dieback of cucumber foliage.

Improving management of cucurbit diseases, especially cucurbit downy mildew (CDM), has been consistently identified by growers and processors in MA as a major research priority in the past ten years. In 2004, new strains of CDM arrived which had overcome resistance that was then standard in all cucumber varieties and adequately controlled the disease. Since that time, growers have struggled to produce late-season cucurbit crops, and have experienced yield losses to fall-harvested crops such as winter squash, as ripening and curing of fruit is now routinely cut short due to late-season disease. Using resistant varieties reduces growers’ reliance on fungicides, which can be very costly and time-consuming to apply with the regularity needed to adequately control disease. Furthermore, new evidence suggests that chlorothalonil, the active ingredient in the fungicide Bravo, has negative effects on honeybees which pollinate all cucurbit crops.  The majority of conventional cucurbit growers rely on chlorothalonil as the backbone of preventative fungicide programs to control both powdery mildew and CDM. It has broad-spectrum activity, low risk for fungicide resistance development, and leads to significant increases in marketable yield and quality. Between the increase in demand for organically-produced cucurbit crops and the increasing concern for bee health, it is clear that finding effective new disease management tools is necessary to prevent losses and meet demand for cucurbits in MA. 

Our goal was to increase yield and quality of cucurbits by providing growers with new tools to maintain their crops in the face of increasing disease pressure, while protecting the environment and honeybees.  Our objectives were to evaluate new resistant cultivars, and to evaluate the impact of combining use of host-resistance with use of alternative fungicides that pose reduced-risks to the environment and honeybees, and which can be used in organic cropping systems. A third objective was to determine the impacts of disease on yield and sales of cucurbit crops in MA, and demonstrate cost-effectiveness of controlling disease using integrated management programs. We have identified several new cultivars with improved disease resistance and yield, have shown that the duration of the fall cucumber season can be extended by up to 48 days using these approaches, and have demonstrated that spraying alternative fungicides can improve profitability. Our findings have been shared directly with 570 growers through presentations and field day demonstrations and indirectly with additional growers, extension personnel, and home gardeners through our newsletter, which reaches 2,500, and publication of technical reports and a forthcoming academic paper. This project increased knowledge about and implementation of cost-effective best management practices for cucurbit production relevant to conventional and organic growers in MA and across the Northeast.

Across the Northeast, high-tunnels are being used with increasing frequency to lengthen the season of spinach and other greens to have produce to sell all winter long.  In this high intensity, year-round system, insect and disease pests build up over time and can become difficult to control.  In this study, UMass Extension partnered with Queen’s Greens—a commercial vegetable farm with a focus on year-round production of organic greens—to evaluate efficacy of biopesticides to improve germination, reduce disease severity, and improve yields in winter-grown spinach.

We conducted lab and field trials to: a) determine if certain biocontrol organisms are more cold tolerant than others and would thus be better suited for use in winter production systems; and b) if any of the products evaluated can significantly increase crop yield and quality.

In New England, European corn borer and pepper maggot are the most common insect pests of pepper fruit. In many locations, peppers picked at the green stage are only marginally affected by ECB, but those left in the field long enough to ripen fall prey to ECB, then to soft rots. During the 2012 season, the UMass IPM team worked with several growers to see if releases of the parasitic wasp Trichogramma ostrinae could increase their yield of healthy bright red and yellow fruit. In the process, the team observed increased incidence of pepper anthracnose in the fields in which they were working.

Advancing IPM on Diversified and Organic Farms

We worked with Massachusetts growers on a broad range of activities related to Integrated Pest Management for diversified vegetable and fruit farms. One of the core components of this project is working with several 'mentor farms,' who grow both fruits and vegetables and are open to expanding their use of advanced integrated pest management techniques as well as working with us to better understand how a diversified farm can use IPM.  We also conducted field trials on-farm and at our research farm on IPM methods identified by growers as their priorities each year. We shared what we learn on each of these farms by holding twilight meetings, posting pest alerts, and writing IPM articles for publication on our websites, newsletters, and facebook page.

Butternut in bins

Beginning in 2010, project participants at the Universities of Massachusetts and New Hampshire Extensions, along with two local food organizations, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in western MA and Seacoast Eat Local (SEL) in eastern NH conducted research trials, and collaborated with winter vegetable producers throughout New England on methods for production, storage, and marketing to strengthen this aspect of the regional food system.

Reducing climatic and disease risks through minimum tillage systems for vegetables

Reduced and modified tillage (RT) systems (e.g. no-, zone-, strip) represent strategies to reduce soil degradation and erosion and protect water quality. Previous research has shown that these tillage systems can provide the environmental and economic benefits of a RT system for many vegetable crops without the harvest delays or losses observed in straight no-till.

Heating Greenhouses with Locally Grown Corn

This project focused on shelled corn, a renewable heat source that can be grown and used in Massachusetts more cheaply than fossil fuels, using available and proven technology. Changing to energy sources that can be produced locally, travel a short distance from producer to user, and that have a high ratio of energy output to fossil fuel input is key to a viable future for farming in Massachusetts.