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HARDENING TRANSPLANTS – VEGETABLE GARDENING

Introduction
The transplanting process can be a shock to rapidly growing seedlings especially when set out into the cold windy garden in the spring. This is especially true for transplants started in the greenhouse, cold frame, hotbed or home. These young seedlings can be made somewhat resistant to heat, cold temperatures, drying and whipping winds, certain types of insect injury, injury from blowing sand and soil particles and low soil moisture by a process termed “hardening.”
The term “hardening” refers to any treatment that results in a firming or hardening of plant tissue. Such a treatment reduces the growth rate, thickens the cuticle and waxy layers, reduces the percentage of freezable water in the plant and often results in a pink color in stems, leaf veins and petioles. Such plants often have smaller and darker green leaves than non hardened plants. Hardening results in an increased level of carbohydrates in the plant permitting a more rapid root development than occurs in non hardened plants.
Cool-season flower and vegetable plants can develop hardiness allowing them to withstand subfreezing temperatures. Unhardened cabbage seedlings have been reported to be damaged by temperatures of -2 degrees C (28 degrees F) while hardened cabbage will tolerate temperatures as low as -6 degrees C (22 degrees F).
Warm-season types of plants even when hardened, will not withstand temperatures much below freezing. If transplanted to the garden or field prior to the average last killing spring frost, such plants should be provided protection by hot caps or other such devices.
Method
Any of the following can be used to harden transplants. A combination of all these techniques at one time is more effective.
1. Gradually reduce water – water lightly at less frequent intervals but do not allow the plants to wilt severely.
2. Expose plants to lower temperature than is reported as optimal for their growth. If biennials are exposed to cold for an extended period, they may bolt in lieu of developing properly. Note: Placing the plants outside during the day to encourage hardening and then bringing the plants back into the warm house during the night often reverses the hardening process. Plants could be placed in a cold frame or other area that does not freeze during the night hours without lose of the hardening process.
3. Do not fertilize, particularly with nitrogen immediately before or during the hardening process. A starter solution or liquid fertilizer could however be applied to the hardened transplants one or two days prior to transplanting into the garden or at the time of transplanting.
4. Gradually expose the plants to more sunlight. This results in the development of a thicker cuticle layer thereby reducing water loss.
Cautions
Hardening is not necessary for all transplants. We recommend that with the exception of tomatoes, plants that are susceptible to frost should not be hardened. Overly hardened plants while withstanding unfavorable outside conditions are slow to get started and may never overcome the stress placed on the plant during the hardening process. We also recommend that plants be hardened for no longer than seven to ten days before planting to the garden site.

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CROP ROTATION AND SOIL FERTILITY

Crop rotation is “The practice of alternating the annual crops grown in a specific field in a planned pattern or sequence so that the crops of the same species or family are not grown repeatedly without interruption on the same field”.
-US National Organic Program definition-

OR leaving soil in the best position it can be for continuing/next crops – that includes cover crops, rotations, green manures, catch crops etc.

BENEFITS OF CROP ROTATION
Preventive Pest Management
Crop rotation may limit the growth of populations of agricultural pests including insects, nematodes, and diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi through regular interruption and replacing crop host species with different plant species that do not serve as hosts. The use of specific crop and cover crop rotations may also be used to control pests through allelopathy, an interference interaction in which a plant releases into the environment a compound that inhibits or stimulates the growth or development of other organisms.
Reduced Weed Competition
Carefully designed crop rotations may also serve to outcompete problematic weed species through shading, competition for nutrients and water, and/or allelopathy.
Distribution of Nutrient Demand Placed On Soil by Crops
Different crops place different nutrient demands on the soil.
Making Efficient Use of Nutrient Inputs
Cropping species that access nutrients from different depths within the soil horizon may make the most efficient use of nutrient inputs. Efficient use of agricultural nutrients may further prevent nutrient losses/leaching and associated environmental pollution.
Nitrogen Fixation
Annual cover crop rotations using nitrogen-fixing (legume) cover crops may contribute significant amounts of nitrogen to succeeding crops as well as adding organic matter to the soil.
Improving Soil Quality
Cover crop rotations allow soils to remain undisturbed for various periods of time during which the processes of soil aggregation can take place. The use of a perennial grass rotation lasting 6 months to one year or more may significantly contribute to organic matter accumulation, stimulate soil biological activity and diversity, and improve soil physical properties.
Increased Crop Yields
The rotation effect – Yield of crops grown in rotation are often higher than those grown in monocultures, even when both systems are supplied with abundant nutrients and water.
Growing a diversity of crops in a given year spreads out labour needs throughout a season. The diversity of crops reduces the economic risks caused by variations in climate and/or market conditions.
TEN BASIC PRACTICES OF CROP ROTATION
Rotate the location of annual crops each year. This is especially true for crops in the Solanaceae family (e.g., peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, etc.). Do not follow one crop with a closely related crop species, as pests and diseases are shared by closely related crops. When growing a wide diversity of crops, attempt to group crops into blocks according to the following criteria:
(1) Plant family
(2) Similar timing/maturation periods
(3) Type of crop (i.e., root vs. fruit vs. leaf crop)
(4) Crops with similar cultural requirements (e.g., irrigation, plastic mulch, dry farmed, planted to moisture crops, etc.)
(5) Follow nitrogen-fixing cover crops and/or legume forage crops (e.g., clover, alfalfa) with heavyfeeding crops (e.g., corn) to take advantage of nitrogen supply.
(6) Follow long-term crop rotations (e.g., 1-year perennial rye rotation or pasture rotations) with disease-sensitive crops (e.g., strawberries).
(7) In diverse annual production systems, heavy-feeding crops (crops with high nutrient demands) should be followed by medium-light or shallow-rooted crops, followed by deep-rooted crops.
(8) Always grow some crops that will produce and leave a large amount of residue/biomass that can be incorporated into the soil to help maintain soil organic matter levels.
(9) Grow deep-rooted crops (e.g., sunflower, fava beans, etc.) that may access nutrients from lower soil horizons, alleviate soil compaction, and fracture sub-soil, thus promoting water infiltration and subsequent root penetration.
(10) Use crop sequences known to aid in controlling weeds.
(11) Use crop sequences known to promote healthy crop growth (e.g., corn followed by onions followed by Cole/Brassicaceae crops) and avoid cropping sequences known to promote pests and diseases (e.g., monocultures in general or peas followed by potatoes specifically).
In conclusion, crop rotation is primarily about a cultural system that is based on natural principles. It is about building a fertile living soil and an environment that supports the healthy growth of plants and natural biological control—a situation where synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are unnecessary and even counterproductive.
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USES OF MULCHES IN SOIL MOISTURE CONSERVATION

INTRODUCTION
Mulch is a protective covering, usually of organic matter such as leaves, straw, or peat, placed around plants to prevent the evaporation of moisture, and the growth of weeds. The word mulch has probably been derived from the German word “molsch” meaning soft to decay, which apparently referred to the gardener’s use of straw and leaves as a spread over the ground as mulch.
Mulching (1) reduces the deterioration of soil by way of preventing the runoff and Soil loss, (2) minimizes the weed infestation and (3) checks the water evaporation. Thus, it facilitates for more retention of soil moisture and (4) helps in control of temperature fluctuations, (5) improves physical, chemical and biological properties of soil, as it adds (6) nutrients to the soil and ultimately (7) enhances the growth and yield of crops. Further, reported that mulching (8) boosts the yield by 50–60% over no mulching under rain-fed situations.

CLASSIFICATION OF MULCHES
Advancement in plastic chemistry has resulted in development of films with optical properties that are ideal for a specific crop in a given location. Horticulturists need to understand the optimum above and below ground environment of a particular crop before the use of plastic mulch. These are two types.
Photo-degradable plastic mulch: This type of plastic mulch film gets destroyed by sun light in a shorter period.
Bio-degradable plastic mulch: This type of plastic mulch film is easily degraded in the soil over a period of time.

COLOR OF FILM
Soil environment can be managed precisely by a proper selection of plastic mulch composition, colour and thickness. Films are available in variety of colours including black, transparent, white, silver, blue red, etc. But the selection of the colour of plastic mulch film depends on specific targets. Generally, the following types of plastic mulch films are used in horticultural crops.
1. Black plastic film: It helps in conserving moisture, controlling weed and reducing outgoing radiation.
2. Reflective silver film: It generally maintains the root-zone temperature cooler.
3. Transparent film: It increases the soil temperature and preferably used for solarisation.
Apart from the above classification there is another way of classifying Methods in mulching:
1. Surface mulching: Mulches are spread on surface to reduce evaporation and increase soil moisture.
2. Vertical mulching: It involves opening of trenches of 30 cm depth and 15 cm width across the slope at vertical interval of 30 cm.
3. Polythene mulching: Sheets of plastic are spread on the soil surface between the crop rows or around tree trunks.
4. Pebble mulching: Soil is covered with pebbles to prevent transfer of heat from atmosphere.
5. Dust mulching: Interculture operation that creates dust to break continuous capillaries, and deep and wide cracks thus reducing evaporation from the exposed soil areas.
6. Live vegetative barriers on contour key lines not only serve as effective mulch when cut and spread on ground surface, but also supply nitrogen to the extent of 25 to 30 kg per ha, besides improving soil moisture status.

EFFECTS OF MULCHES ON SOIL MOISTURE CONSERVATION
Water is essential for growth and development. It is also a major cost in agricultural systems. The success of many agricultural forms relies on conservative and efficient use of water. Moisture retention is undoubtedly the most common reason for which mulch is applied to soil.
Ingman claimed that the use of things made with plastic or plastic components have become a routine part of our daily lives. In a similar way, over the past 50 years world agricultural systems have rapidly adopted the use of many types of plastic products to grow the food we eat because of the productive advantages they afford. Plastic use in agriculture (plasticulture) continues to increase every year in the ever-diminishing supply of petroleum. There is a common lack of awareness
regarding what plastic mulch is, and also a lack of applied research of its use in agricultural communities. However, the use of plastic mulch may actually be one of the most significant water conservation practices in modern agriculture: quite possibly surpassing the water savings of drip irrigation. Even though most of the world’s use of freshwater is spent for irrigation purposes, little research explores how plastic mulch use as a water conservation practice may influence the current and future status of water resources. He used a multidisciplinary approach to understand why Chinese farmers on the margins of the Gobi desert continue to use plastic mulch, and in particular, how its use may relate to water conservation. Next, the study asks to what extent the plasticization of agriculture may influence the income and standard of living for agricultural communities. He was able to prove the role of plastic mulch in conserving soil moisture.
Mulch is used to protect the soil from direct exposure to the sun, which would evaporate moisture from the soil surface and cause drying of the soil profile. The protective interface established by the mulch stops raindrop splash by absorbing the
impact energy of the rain, hence reducing soil surface crust formation. The mulch permits soil surface to prevent runoff allowing a longer infiltration time. These features result in improved water infiltration rates and higher soil moisture. An auxiliary benefit of mulch reducing soil splash is the decreased need for additional
cleaning prior to processing of the herb foliage. Organic and inorganic mulches have shown to improve the soil moisture retention. This increased water holding ability enables plants to survive during dry periods. The use of plastic mulch can be improved if under-mulch irrigation is used in combination with soil moisture monitoring.
The influence of rainfall events is not as great when plastic mulch is used, necessitating active irrigation management. Under mulch, irrigation of vegetable crops has been shown to improve crop yields more than overhead irrigation systems.
Mulch enables the soil moisture levels to maintain for longer periods. In some cases while providing improved moisture conditions within the soil, the mulch changes microclimate so that it uses more water, thus negating the initial benefits. Plastic mulch conserved 47.08% of water and increased yield by 47.67% in tomato
when compared to nonmulched control. Plastic mulching resulted in 33 to 52% more efficient use of irrigation water in bell pepper compared to bare soil.
The conservation of soil moisture through mulching is one of the important best management practices (BMP). The microclimatic conditions are favourably affected by optimum degree of soil moisture. When soil surface is covered with mulch helps
to prevent weed growth, reduce evaporation and increase infiltration of rainwater during growing season.
Different mulching materials helped bell pepper (C. annuum cv. California Wonder) to perform better at water deficits from 25–75% and plastic mulch had highest water use efficiency. Treatment receiving mulch recorded significantly higher net

Source: Best Management Practices for Drip Irrigated Crops
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LUFENURON- A Miracle Pesticide

Lufenuron, a new pesticide on the market is a benzoylurea pesticide that inhibits the production of Chitin in insects. Without Chitin, a larval flea will never develop a hard outer shell (exoskeleton). With its inner organs exposed to air, the insect dies from dehydration soon after hatching or molting (shedding of its old, small shell).
Lufenuron is also used to fight fungal infections, since fungus cell walls are about one third Chitin.
Lufenuron is also sold as an agricultural pesticide against Lepidopterans, eriophid mites, and western flower thrips. It is an effective anti fungal in plants.

Agriculture the Backbone of Africa

Agriculture being the backbone of most developing economies in Africa holds pregnant solutions to food insecurity and a spectrum of deficiency diseases affecting Africa. However this potential has not been tapped enough to make it rise to the occasion of a commercialized agriculture that can provide employment, continuously and adequately feed Africans and nurture economic growth in the individual countries.

To see this in print we need combined efforts between large and small scale farmers, government and educational institutions to provide thinking minds and dedicated personnel to act as movers of change. The farmers must convert the farming activities into enterprises worth investments of money, time and energy. This is unlike the garden-to-mouth philosophy that is not only a disgrace to a growing economy but also an injection of poverty to the society.

The government needs to make policies that not only support agriculture but also gets directly involved in it through parastatals. Subsidized fertilizers, pesticides and buying produce from farmers can offer direct support while policies supporting climate and environmental consciousness, rural development and artificial irrigation can support indirectly.

Educational institutions should promote research projects related to agriculture from students for capacity building in rural areas and take their students for academic trips to food processing companies to set them on fire of innovation.

According to statistics released by FAO, a child dies every six seconds from hunger, 14% of greenhouse gases come from agriculture and 74% of this is brought by developing countries where most of our African economies lie. This necessitates the need to be conscious of our environment and fast conversion of words to deeds, from the boardroom to the field.
With the above mentioned synergistic effect, we can transform our Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) into our main production zones by not depending on rain-fed agriculture but irrigating our farms. This will provide adequate food for us and feeds for our animals that will give us manure for organic farming thereby reciprocal benefits. Africa is endowed with lakes, dams and rivers to support this but people in their immediate environment die from hunger. Reclaiming our land by the government is another step along the journey. Production alone is not enough. We need food processing companies near these farms to bring the youth to rural areas and closer to the farms that will rejuvenate the spirit of agriculture from old and rigid people to young, innovative and aggressive minds that can elevate food security in the continent and reduce antisocial crimes and solve problems related to rural-urban migration.

Food scientists and technologists in these companies will complete the chain of production by processing the produce to finished products to avoid post-harvest wastage and ensure continuous supply throughout the country. The excess will be exported to earn our countries substantial foreign currencies to increase our net factor incomes and lead to positive balance of payments. With the new technological advancement, education and incentive systems in our individual countries, it can be done.SAM_3320

Africa the Cradle of Agriculture

Africa is credited to be the cradle of agriculture, despite this being the case the continent lags behind when it comes to Food Security.

This “Year of agriculture and Food Security” in Africa must take its relevance. Agriculture must become a true rallying point for change on the continent and beyond as we seek to achieve, in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘an Africa where there would be work, bread, water and salt for all.

Therefore, there is need for African governments to spearhead innovations in agriculture if we are to attain Food Security in Africa. There is no doubt that meaningful agricultural innovations can and will create Food Security in Africa.

Approximately 65 percent of Africans rely on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. And despite the wide variety of crops, animals and farm practices across the continent, Africa has the lowest levels of agricultural productivity in the world.

History tells us that nations that have succeeded in taking their people out of poverty have done it on the back of an agricultural revolution that involved systematic improvements in production, storage, processing and use. Increase in agricultural productivity, has, from the time of the European industrial revolution contributed immensely to fast tracking the structural transformation of economies.

The effect of the agricultural revolution on the economies of Brazil, India, and China give an illustration of how the surplus from increased agricultural productivity can fuel industrial growth.

The majority of African farmers have not benefited from initiatives and programs aimed at improving farming techniques, better farm equipment, seeds, fertilizer, post-harvest technology, agricultural financing and so on. Why has minimal level of success been attained so far?