Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Had a Really Fun Hop Yard Tour Yesterday

Photo by Rob Austin
The hops tour in Buncombe County yesterday was informative, fun, and a great way to spend a late summer day in western North Carolina. Thank you to Melinda Roberts and Chris Reedy for taking the lead and making it all happen. Thank you to our tour stop hosts, Julie Jensen of Landfair Farms, Van Burnette of Hop 'n Blueberry Farm, and Dave at Pisgah Brewing Co. I don't have all the details on how many people were there (about 100?) or many photos yet (coming soon), but I can tell you that there is tremendous enthusiasm and support for this budding new industry in western North Carolina. This was first made evident last February when Chuck Blethen and Jeannie Blair of Jewel of the Blue Ridge Marketing and David Kendall of the Madison County Extension office hosted a Hops Confab in Marshall and 130 people showed up! At our "in the field" event yesterday, a number of growers, brewers, and homebrewers from other areas told me how envious they were of the enthusiasm and support that hops get here. They do not have the support from their land grant universities, county extension offices, local non-profits, and communities the way we do. We are so fortunate to be in an area where it seems that everyone embraces "all that's local".

Because of the number of people who are interested in growing hops or buying local hops, Chris Reedy has initiated a local hops group. This is a brand new idea, so we don't know what the structure will turn out to be, who will run it, etc. But Chris is willing to take the lead to help us set up a good communications network so we can readily share information. On Friday night he named the group the Eastern Hops Guild and set up a blog for it at Sign on and help us grow this group!

You can also read a recent article about Van's hop yard at

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Varieties Being Developed for Organic Production

Organic heirloom tomatoes last year-no blight!
Randy Gardner, retired NC State tomato breeder, visited our organic heirloom and heirloom-type hybrid tomato variety trial today. As most of you know, late blight is rampant throughout our region and most organic growers are reporting significant damage. Last week I noted that there was a very definite difference between varieties in the amount of late blight damage. Surprisingly, one of the heirloom varieties is still going strong. That is good old 'Mr. Stripey'! But Randy was excited about one of his big, pink hybrids; it is doing exceptionally well. It is a Brandywine cross, with an indeterminate growth habit and really good flavor. It is being tested under the breeding number NC08224. It is an improved version of a tomato we evaluated last year under the breeding number NC161L. This new variety won't be available commercially for several more years, but it gives us something to look forward to.

In the meantime, a Bejo seed company representative called me this week to tell me that 'Mountain Magic' seed will be commercially available next year. This is exciting news because 'Mountain Magic' has done great in our studies and in growers' fields. It is a high-yielding, campari type tomato with exceptional flavor. It has come up number one in our taste test trials for several years. It was tested under the breeding number NC05114.

The heirloom variety, Stupice' has also held up well in the presence of late blight, has a long production period, and ranks high in the taste tests.

While we're on the subject of late blight, you might want to check out this Powerpoint presentation on organic late blight management that was just presented by Ruth Hazzard at the 2009 NOFA Conference:

So, it looks like with a good late blight resistant variety and the right combination of organic products, we should all be able to grow a good crop of organic tomatoes in western North Carolina. I know, some of you are already doing that, but for most organic farmers and gardeners in this region, that is an almost impossible task in a wet, 'late blight heavy' year like this one. We will welcome the help of some "good genes".
(FYI, none of Randy's varieties are GMO's)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Varieties Included in the Organic Heirloom Tomato Study

Lots of people are asking what varieties we included in the study I reported on in the last post. I will have pictures of all of these soon, but for now, here is the list. The nine numbered varieties are still in development by our breeder, Dilip Panthee. The eleven heirloom varieties are readily available.

Akers West Virginia
Aunt Ruby's German Green
Cherokee Purple
Pink Brandywine
Mr. Stripey
Arkansas Traveler
Black Plum
Black Prince
Orange Banana
Yellow Pear
NC 085
NC 0694

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Heirloom Tomatoes Galore at Waynesville Research Station

Boxes of tomatoes from heirloom tomato study

On Friday, August 21 over fifty farmers, home gardeners, extension personnel, and other folks working in agriculture turned out for the annual workshop highlighting tomatoes at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. Although rain was in the forecast, that morning the sun was shining and a light breeze blowing; perfect weather for observing the studies. Jeanine Davis, horticulturist, and Dilip Panthee, tomato breeder, first described their organic heirloom and heirloom-type hybrid study. Small plots with eleven heirloom tomatoes and nine heirloom-type hybrids were marked with big signs so visitors could see the differences in growth habits, fruit set, and disease symptoms. Dilip spoke about late blight and the devastating effects it is having on tomato production throughout the eastern United States. He picked leaves from late blight infected plants and showed the audience what it looked like at different stages so they could identify it themselves in their own gardens and fields. There were big differences in the amount of late blight between the varieties and Jeanine promised that information on how each variety fared would be published on her website,, at the end of the season. Compared to what many people have in their gardens, the plants in the study looked good. So there was lots of discussion about how the plants were protected. Jeanine explained that they were using a number of different products this year, all approved for organic production, including Sporatec, Serenade, Neem oil, copper, BioLink, and Saf-T-Side.

Studying the field plots and posters describing the research

The crowd then moved over to a study where Chargrow, a microbially active biochar product, is being tested under different fertility regimes. Jon Nilsson, a company representative, explained what biochar is and how it is made, and why they created Chargrow, an enhanced biochar product. Chargrow is used in the production of the tomato transplants, and big differences were observed in transplant size when the field was set. It was a little too soon to tell if there would be yield differences or not, because harvests had just begun. But the 'Mountain Fresh' plants were weighed down with an abundance of large green fruit. Final results will be published at the end of the season.

Jeanine then took a moment to explain how the state financial situation impacted agricultural research and how partnerships with industry and grants allow the research to continue. These two studies were supported by industry, Brandt Consolidated ( and a member of the Carbon Char Group (

Attendees participating in the tomato taste test

After viewing the field plots, the crowd moved indoors where they participated in a tomato taste test, featuring most of the varieties they had observed in the field. Then they had the opportunity to view boxes of the harvested fruit and match up their favorites in the taste test (where they were only marked with numbers) with the variety name and whole fruit. Chris Sawyer and Missy Huger of Jake's Farm set up a table outside to conduct their own informal taste test and introduce folks to the wide array of varieties that they produce on their farm ( Then it was time for lunch which consisted of "make your own tomato sandwiches" with slices of ripe tomatoes from the study, bread, and mayonnaise. The meal was rounded out with chips, cookies, and lots of tea.

Enjoying a fresh tomato sandwich lunch

The representatives from Ingles did not show up, which was a disappointment to several farmers who came to meet with them. But fortunately, Peter Marks from ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, stepped up and gave a short presentation on some of the most promising market opportunities for local farmers, including wholesale markets such as Ingles. He also told the many home gardeners present where they could buy local produce, explained what CSAs are (Community Supported Agriculture,, and explained why it is so hard for local farmers to get their produce into big supermarkets. Doug Sutton, the new manager of the WNC Farmers Market ( talked about the many changes he is bringing to the market, including opening new venues for organic and local farmers to sell their products.

Jeanine Davis ended the workshop with information about the new organic research unit that is being planned for the research station. That announcement was met with enthusiastic support.

All in all, it was a successful event. The research station looked beautiful, the tomatoes tasted great, and everyone seemed to enjoy learning about the research that is done there and where they can buy locally grown food. If you missed this year's workshop, watch for notices in early August next year!

Visits to Local Organic Farms Show Abundance of Good Produce!

Heirloom tomatoes at Jake's Farm

On Thursday, August 20, Sue Colucci, area specialized extension agent (, and I visited several organic farms in Henderson and Buncombe Counties.

Hal Oliver harvesting basil
Our first stop was to Oliver Organics in Hendersonville ( We found Hal Oliver, long time organic/biodynamic farmer, harvesting a beautiful crop of basil. His farm is small, orderly, intensive, and very diverse. The farm is not certified organic, but Hal has a well earned reputation as one of the most knowledgeable organic farmers in the region. He had a wide variety of vegetables ready to harvest for the local tailgate markets and restaurants he sells to. Lots of tomatoes, peppers, Malabar spinach, and squash were ripe and luscious looking. Hal sells his produce at the Henderson County Tailgate Market in downtown Hendersonville on Saturday mornings.

Michael Porterfield showing Sue Colucci a young squash planting

Our second visit for the day was to Gladheart Farms in Asheville( Michael Porterfield showed us around some of the big fields they are cultivating right outside of downtown Asheville. Considering that this is only their second year in operation, I was amazed at the variety of crops being produced and size of plantings! It's obvious that this farm is cared for by a group of very dedicated people with strong backs and a desire to grow an abundance of good food. They are experiencing some challenges this year, as many of us are because of the frequent rains, but I have no doubt that within a few years they will have mastered a system for producing large volumes of high-quality, organic food. Gladheart Farms is certified organic and takes pride in being good stewards and of turning land that was destined for development into a working farm. They sell direct to consumers at a roadside stand and through a CSA, but their emphasis seems to be on wholesale marketing. Their products can be found in local stores. I saw lots of peppers ready for the table, different melons nearing harvest, and lots of yummy looking pie pumpkins.

Chris Sawyer and Sue Colucci examing a corn plant
Our third and final stop of the day was to visit my old friend, Chris Sawyer at Jake's Farm ( Chris and Missy Huger have operated this farm in Candler since 1998. They are certified organic and grow without the use of animal manures. They produce a wide variety of crops year round, making use of high-tunnels, greenhouses, raised beds, and fields on over six acres. Chris and Missy are very active in their local community and have done much over the years to make people aware of where their food comes from and help local farmers be successful. They are owner/members in Carolina Organic Growers and users and strong supporters of Blue Ridge Food Ventures. They sell at tailgate markets throughout the region, to restaurants, and a variety of wholesale outlets. They also make several value-added products. They can be founda at the Asheville City Market on Saturday mornings. Right now, Jake's Farm has an abundance of heirloom tomatoes of all different varieties. From sugar-sweet Sungolds to huge, pink Brandywines. They are beautiful. There were also lots of peppers, Sun Jewel melons, basil, and freshly harvested potatoes. Yum!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ingles Supermarket Reps to Attend Tomato Workshop

Photo from 2008 Event

I just got notice that representatives from Ingles Supermarket plan to be at the Tomato Workshop on Friday at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. They want to meet with local farmers, emphasis on 'organic' and 'local'. I was told that the Vice President of Produce and the manager of the Waynesville Ingles Store will be there. Also, an organic production and an organic buyer. The latter two are not associated with Ingles. I have a call into the VP of Produce right now to get clarification on all this, but they are definitely coming.
So, if you are interested in selling to Ingles (and ASAP says they are making a big effort to buy local), you might want to rearrange your schedule so you can attend. Once again, here is the info.

Tomato Workshop: Highlighting Studies on Growing Organic Heirloom Tomatoes
And Growing Tomatoes with a Microbially Active Biochar Product

When: August 21, 2009 10:00 AM to Noon
Where: Mountain Research Station, Waynesville, NC Directions at:

Back by popular demand-free tomato sandwiches! Chips and tea will round out this light lunch.
This is an outdoors workshop. We will have canopies set up, tables, and chairs. If we have heavy rain, we will move inside for the taste tests and lunch. For More Information: Please call Terri Schell at 828-684-3562 or email her at

Funding for these two projects was provided by Brandt Consolidated ( and a member of the Carbon Char Group (
These studies are being conducted by Dr. Jeanine Davis and Dr. Dilip Panthee at NC State University.

Local Hop Grower Gets Recognition

Van Burnette is a new hops grower in Buncombe County. There is a great article about him and his hops yard in the Black Mountain News:

Van is one of number of new hops growers in Western North Carolina. You can visit Van's farm and another hops yard in Buncombe County during the Hops Farm Tour on Saturday, August 29.

2009 Hops Farm Tour
August 29, 2009
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Visit two local hops growers and one local brewer to learn about the improtance of locally grown hops. Topics of discussion include varieties for WNC, trellis systems, flower sets, burrs, cones, general care, pest and disease management, and when to havest. Cost is $10 per car load of folks. For more information contact Melinda Roberts at 828.255.5522 or email

Sponsored by NC Cooperative Extension.

9:00-10:00 am: Registration at Landfair Farms, 71 Allman Hill Rd, Weaverville, NC
10:00-1200 noon: Tour Landfair Farms
12:00-1:30 pm: Lunch/travel. Food available for purchase at Landfair Farms.
1:30-3:30 pm: Tour Hop N' Berry Farm, Black Mountain
4:00-5:00 pm: Tour/Taste Test at Pisgah Brewery

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recession Squeezing University Ag Research & Extension

There is an article in the latest Southeast Farm Press that is thought provoking (and I don't say that just because I'm employed by the university). I encourage you to read it and respond to the appropriate decision makers. Here is a short excerpt of that article written by Roy Roberson (follow the link to read the whole article

"In academic circles the so-called Land-Grant Death Spiral has been talked about for years. The general public doesn’t generally understand the phenomena or its importance. If research and Extension programs went away all of a sudden versus the predicted slow death spiral, the general public likely wouldn’t know or care — after all well over 90 percent of us no longer live on a farm.

As the infrastructure that made us the greatest food producing nation in history begins to erode, the public will likely take notice. And, likely they won’t like what they find. What looked like a great tax dollar-saving cut during the recession won’t likely look so good once our revitalized economy starts importing double and triple the amount of food we currently bring into the U.S. The food might taste much the same, but the cost will be considerably harder to digest."

Monday, August 17, 2009

NC Natural Products Association Volunteer Opps

The NC Natural Products Association had a productive board meeting today with lots of new action items. We are forming working groups to address specific issues to help businesses, farmers, and practitioners in the NC natural products industry. If you are interested in helping to brand our region's herbs and natural products, tell the world about all the great products and herbs produced here, help brainstorm and organize educational events, and build networking opportunities for herb growers, manufacturers, and practitioners, please let us know! Email me at and I will forward your message on to the right individual. (We could really use help to update a very outdated website!)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Dirty Dozen-An Opportunity for Organic Farmers?

Photo by Bill Jester

If you missed the Good Morning America segment last Thursday on "The Dirty Dozen of Fruits and Vegetables", you might want to read it over at The authors start out by explaining that a recent study revealed that two-thirds of the produce sold in this country does not contain pesticides. But then they list the twelve fruits and vegetables that the Environmental Working Group ( identified as most likely to contain pesticides. They are peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, nectarines, strawberries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears. Whether you believe these reports or not, considering the millions of people who watch GMA every morning, I sure which I had a field of organic lettuce right now!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 21, 2009 Tomato Workshop

The Studies:
Organic Production of Heirloom and Heirloom-type Hybrid Tomatoes by Jeanine Davis and Dilip Panthee
Farmers and gardeners have been very interested in the organic heirloom tomato studies that we have conducted at this research station since 2004. This year, there are two small studies to show you. In the organic heirloom tomato study, 11 heirloom tomato varieties and 9 new heirloom-type hybrids are being grown. Instead of comparing different disease and insect control programs as we have done the past few years, we took what we learned from those studies and created one organic disease and insect control program to test. What a year to test it! We also set up this whole study on a high-stake, string and weave system instead of a standard trellis system. You can help us evaluate the effectiveness of that. There will also be a taste test to compare all the varieties.

Assessing the Effects of Fertilizer Rates and Carbon-based Soil Inoculants on Tomato Growth and Yield by Jeanine Davis
Everyone is talking about biochar and how it can improve crop yields, remediate soils, reduce fertilizer use, sequester carbon, and as a byproduct of its manufacturing, be a source of an alternative fuel. This study is one of several in the Southeast testing CHARGROW, a biochar product inoculated with beneficial soil microorganisms. Different formulations of the product were used to grow the transplants at two rates. The plants are being grown under three fertilizer regimes. Organic disease and insect control products are currently being used. A member of the Carbon Char Group will be present to discuss biochar and CHARGROW.

Tomato Sandwiches Provided: Back by popular demand – free tomato sandwiches! Make your own sandwich-we’ll provide the tomatoes, bread and mayonnaise. Chips and tea will round out this light lunch.

Come Prepared: This workshop will take place outside. We will have canopies set up, tables, and chairs. But if it’s raining, bring an umbrella and if it’s sunny, bring your sunscreen. (There will not be presentations in the big building as during the past few years).

For More Information: Please call Terri Schell at 828-684-3562 or email her at

Funding: Funding for these two projects was provided by Brandt Consolidated ( and a member of the Carbon Char Group (

Who is Conducting These Studies: These studies are being conducted by Dr. Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, and Dr. Dilip Panthee, Assistant Professor, in the Department of Horticultural Science at NC State University. They are located at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, NC. The Mountain Research Station maintains the research plots and provides technical support for the projects.