Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Oh no, the hops are on the ground!

Yesterday morning, the NCSU research hop yard looked beautiful. We had a group of young farmers from New Zealand coming for a visit and I was glad that the plants were at a perfect stage to teach them about hops. There were very obvious differences among the varieties, there were burrs and cones to show them, and the farmscaping plants were in full bloom. 
But somehow I had totally missed seeing that half of the lower row of the hop yard was on the ground! Later in the day I got a call from my employee, Leo, asking me about it. "How could I have missed that?" I asked. We went out to assess the situation, fearing that the wire had broken. Fortunately, we discovered that a clamp had simply popped off and the wire just slid out through the eyebolt. There had been strong storms in the area over the weekend; I guess that lower row was the most exposed and Kelly had tightened up that wire on Friday, maybe a wee bit too much. 
Our research station staff are so wonderful. They came right to help and in short order we had a plan and started the repairs.
Jeremy had the worse job. He was the one who climbed up the ladder to thread the wire back through the eyebolt and put not one but TWO clamps on. None of us are used to being on the ladders in our yard because we only have to do it when something needs repairs which is not very often. Otherwise, we use the winches to raise and lower the wire.
The hardest part was untangling the bines. Not sure how they got crossed, but we had to untie a few strings to get the bines back in order. 
But it all worked out just fine. We got the wire up, got the bines spread out properly, and there is no apparent damage. So we weathered our first "collapse" just fine. But next time we have a calm day and a few spare hours, we are going to put a second clamp on all the other wires, too.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Our Truck is Wrecked! Looking for a Great Deal, Please

This is my work pick-up truck. Three of my employees were returning from the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville when they ran into a heavy rain storm and, well, had an incident. Fortunately, they are okay and I carried collision/comprehensive insurance on this vehicle. The bad part is, the insurance company declared this a total loss and I am only getting $6,600 for it. This was our newest vehicle (2001 Dodge Ram) and the only 4WD we had. Our other two vehicles are a 1998 Ford Windstar mini-van and a 1997 Ford F-150 2-WD pick-up. Three days after the wreck, the transmission started acting up on the mini-van. It is in the shop now, but since it is only worth about $800, it doesn't make sense to sink much money into it. So we suddenly went from three vehicles to one.

We are in a tough spot. There are seven of us conducting research in Mills River, in Waynesville, which is 40 miles away from Mills River, and on six farms. We also need to visit truffle orchards and hop yards all over the state. We really need to have three work vehicles. None of us have personal vehicles that are appropriate; we need to drive through fields, mud, and on steep dirt and gravel roads. We also transport equipment, tools, boxes of produce, and flats of plants. You know, farming stuff.

The university no longer provides vehicles for their faculty, so it is up to me to buy another truck. I fund my program almost exclusively with grants. but I cannot buy a vehicle on a state or federal grant. Your donations help me pay for insurance, inspections, maintenance, repairs, and tires.

So now I am coming to you for support, suggestions, leads, and perhaps a really great deal for us to obtain a good, reliable truck very quickly for $6,600. Since NC State University is a non-profit, donating all or part of the value of the truck would be tax deductible. If someone wanted to donate a vehicle with wording on the side that said "Donated by..." we are all for it. I hate to come begging, but we are in a bind.

Donations can also be made directly to my Foundation account at go.ncsu.edu/alternativecropsorganics

Thank you.  Jeanine, Margaret, Luping, Leo, Lijing, Reuben, and Kelly

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Did You See Our Video on Growing Bloodroot?

Margaret and I have been getting many inquiries about bloodroot. People want to grow it for its medicinal uses and as a dye plant for textiles and crafts. Others just think it is a lovely plant to have in their shade gardens.
Several years ago we had a bloodroot project and Margaret Bloomquist and my former employee Alison Dressler created this wonderful little video on how to grow it. Here is a link to OUR BLOODROOT VIDEO.
The picture above is freshly harvested bloodroot and the picture below are some of the beautiful baskets made by Cherokee artists using bloodroot as one of the dyes. These baskets can be purchased at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Gallery in Cherokee, NC.
If you would like to see us do more projects like this, consider making a donation to our program. It is quick and easy, just CLICK HERE! We would be pleased to list your name as a Friend of the NC Alternative Crops and Organics Program.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wild Herb Weekend-My Favorite Conference of the Year!

The North Carolina Herb Association holds an amazing little conference every year. This is one I NEVER miss. I would love to have you join us. The event is held at the Valle Crucis Conference Center in Valle Crucis, NC. This is in the high country near Boone. The conference center is an old mission with historic old buildings sprinkled up. The lodging is very clean but a bit rustic. The old lodge, shown above, has single and double rooms with shared baths. There are several houses with single and double rooms and shared baths. The Annex has double rooms and a few rooms with multiple beds. There is no air conditioning but I think most all rooms have ceiling fans. Those of us in the know also bring extra fans just in case.
We always have an energetic group of interns there to help vendors set-up and break down, to set up classrooms and assist teachers, to run the raffle, and just be all round helpful. As an organization, we love that we are able to help budding herbalists attend this conference and give them an opportunity to mingle with great herbalists.
Check out these great classes that will be offered this year: Class Descriptions. There are plant walks and many of the classes are hands-on. There is something for everyone, from the novice, to the herb enthusiast, to the practicing herbalist, and the herb business person.
There is also a herbal food contest, so put on your apron and set out to impress us. Maybe your recipe will make it into our next cookbook.
Register soon on the NC Herb Association WHW page and join us for a relaxing, fun-filled weekend.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Check Out Our 2015 Research Projects!

Developing an East Coast Broccoli Industry
90% of all broccoli consumed in the USA is grown in California and Mexico. It is then packed on ice and shipped all over the country, resulting in increased food miles, greenhouse gases, and reduced income opportunities for regional farmers. We are collaborating with a team of public institutions, private seed companies, economists, and production specialists to establish a regional food network for broccoli from Maine to Florida. We are entering the fifth year of this project which aims to move production from isolated areas in the East Coast to a robust, year round market that will provide a more stable income stream to East Coast broccoli farmers. There are large trials, focusing on summer production (thus the white plastic) at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville and three on-farm studies in Henderson County. This project is funded by a Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) grant through USDA-NIFA.

NC Hops Project
The goal of this project is to determine if hops can be grown in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and if so, which varieties are best suited for our growing conditions. We are entering our fifth year of a hops variety trial, growing 12 varieties which were chosen because of characteristics of potential high yield, resistance to pests and disease, and brewer interest. The hop yard is located at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills river. Each summer we host a Hop Yard Field Day where we invite the public to tour the hop yard, hear more about our research, and ask questions. This year we are also offering monthly hop tours that you can register for on Eventbrite. This project was funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Block grant administered through the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That grant has expired so we are currently maintaining this hop yard without any funding. If you would like to support this project, please consider making a donation and becoming a Friend of our program

Organic Cucurbit Breeding Project
The goal of this project is to improve the management strategies of the three major pests and diseases that affect cucurbit production on organic farms, including cucurbit downy mildew, the striped cucumber beetle, and aphid vectored viruses. These pests and diseases severely limit organic production of organic cucurbits. We are in our second year of the major field plot aspects of project. The North Carolina field plot is located in the certified organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. Researchers are using existing germplasm to breed high quality cucumber, melon and squash open pollinated (OP) cultivars with tolerance to common pests and diseases and subsequently select the breeding lines that best deal with these pests. We are engaging extensively with farmers to facilitate adoption of our findings and to enhance and support the growth of organic cucurbit production in the Southeast. This is a multi-state, multi-year project funded by a Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant through USDA-NIFA.

Participatory Screening of Organic Broccoli Varieties
The demand for local, organic broccoli is huge. In fact, the current supply gap of organic broccoli is over 1 million pounds which is equivalent to over $2 million. Because of higher elevation, farmers in western NC are in a unique position to grow broccoli throughout the summer months when it is too hot to produce it in the rest of the Southeast. Farmers know the importance of variety selection in vegetable production, so with funding from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), we embarked on a four year study that involves farmers in variety selection, testing, and evaluation of up to 29 different broccoli varieties. Through this participatory screening process, in addition to multiple workshops, farmers are gaining valuable insight into organic broccoli production and marketing. This year we are working with regional organic growers to trial the best varieties from the research station trials on farms. One of the trials is located on the certified organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. The other three trials are on organic farms in Henderson County.
Stevia Research
Heading into our second year, we are growing stevia at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville to determine if this is a viable crop for farmers in Western North Carolina.  Industry analysts predict stevia could command one third of the $58 billion market for sweeteners, which poses an opportunity for farmers in North Carolina. Most of the stevia on the market is grown in China and South America, but already farmers in parts of the Southeastern USA are experimenting with this crop. It may serve as a substitute for former tobacco farmers because the same planting equipment, harvesters, drying barns, and loaders that are used in tobacco production can also be used in stevia production. This project is funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant administered by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and with the support and cooperation of Sweet Green Fields.
Organic Tomato Breeding Project
We are launching the first year of this multi-state project to breed tomatoes specifically for organic production. Our site is the main site for evaluating how varieties and new breeding lines hold up under intense disease pressure from late blight, early blight, and Septoria. The study is located in the certified organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. This project is funded by a USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant.

Organic Wash Solutions Project
We are part of a multi-state project to develop organic products for use in cleaning produce; as you would use in a tomato dump tank. Our part of the project is to grow organic tomatoes and lettuce for testing the new solutions. These are grown in the certified organic research unit on the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. This project is funded by a USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant.

Echinacea is one of the most widely consumed and well-known medicinal herbs. In 2012 we initiated a three year field trial at Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station in Mills River and the Upper Piedmont Research Station in Reidsville to determine the effects that geographic location has on the chemical composition of Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia. Jennifer Crumley earned her Master's degree with this project. This year we are evaluating some selected plants from the previous trials that might lead to a new breeding effort. AmwayNutrilite funded this project.  

Medicinal Herbs, Chinese Herbs, and Native Plants     
A strong focus of our program is growing medicinal herbs for commerce as well as the importance of native plant conservation through cultivation. We hold regular workshops on many topics including: connecting medicinal herb growers and wild-harvesters to local, regional, national, and international buyers; proper post-harvesting handling of medicinal herbs; training extension agents and other agricultural educators on medicinal herb production; as well as hand-on workshops on seed and root propagation. We are also maintaining our Chinese medicinal herb plots from a current project. We do not currently have funds for any of these projects. If you are interested in supporting them, please consider making a donation and becoming a Friend of our program.

Truffle Research
We continue to maintain and monitor our truffle orchards at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. We are growing filbert trees inoculated with Black Perigord truffle. The first orchard was planted in 2010, which means we could start to see truffles emerging soon. We had two trained truffle hunting dogs in the orchards this winter to detect if truffles are growing just under the soil surface (none there yet!). We are anxiously awaiting harvesting these prized mushrooms and determining if this is a profitable opportunity for regional growers. We are starting a new project working with growers this year to evaluate methods of testing for colonization of the orchard by the truffle organism. The project is funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant administered by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

WNC Farm Link
The vision of WNC Farm Link is to have a ‘resilient agricultural region where farmers have affordable options for accessing farm and forest land to create sustainable farm operations, where landowners have viable opportunities for keeping their land in farming, and where agriculture continues to be an integral part of our economy, environment, and community in Western North Carolina.’ WNC Farm Link works toward this vision by connecting farmers who are seeking land for ownership or lease with landowners who have land available. Our employee resides in the office of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in Asheville. More information is available at wncfarmlink.org. This project is funded by a federal Rural Jobs grant awarded by three federal agencies.

Biodynamic Research
With the growing demand for Biodynamic produce, two years ago we began trying to initiate collaborative projects with Demeter USA and other organizations and individuals involved in Biodynamic production. Farmers who grow Biodynamically have reported higher yields and less disease and insect pressure, and we want to know the science behind these practices. We are currently exploring funding sources for long-term research projects, but in the meantime we are continuing to educated farmers to Biodynamic concepts as well as offer opportunities to enhance the knowledge of those more familiar with Biodynamics. We do not currently have funds for this project. If you are interested in supporting it, please consider making a donation and becoming a Friend of our program.