Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

$40,000 an Acre from Raspberries – Maybe
An Easy Berry Bush

Backyard Berries Make Easy Edible Landscape
Diesel Starting Tips
Hard-Working Wasps Help Protect Apple Crops
Incorporate Manure Quickly to Reduce N Losses
Pesticides Quiz and Info Online
Pruning Tips
Tips for Starting a CSA

$40,000 an Acre from Raspberries – Maybe

Massachusetts grower William Hamilton grows many varieties of raspberries, including a tender variety called Tulameen. Left in cold storage over the winter and set out in the spring in containers, this variety produces quality fruit and fetches a high price, according to an article in Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture. These long-cane plants have the advantage of producing fruit the first year they are grown. This system of growing plants in containers could be adopted by those without suitable sites for planting in the ground. The main requirements are access to drip irrigation, a reasonably flat piece of land, and access to winter storage for mature plants and for acclimating dormant nursery stock.

Using a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grant, Hamilton grew about 850 plants, each in a 3-gallon pot, setting them out on different planting dates. Five-foot bamboo stakes in each pot formed support tripods for the plants, and a trellis supported rows of pots. Chemical fertilizers fed the plants through the drip irrigation system.

Plants taken out of storage early did not have a great increase in yield; they took longer to fruit so incurred greater costs. The best time to bring the plants out in west-central Massachusetts was the latter half of May. This avoided some frosts but maintained yields. Frost protection from overhead irrigation or high tunnels is needed if the plants are set out before the end of May in Hamilton’s area.

Second-year plants had a dramatic increase in yield. Each plant grossed $15 more in year two than in year one; profit from each second-year plant was $10.21, while each plant lost $1.54 in the first year. Further experience with this system should reduce costs, Hamilton believes.

Buyers were willing to pay about 30% more for Tulameen fruit than for field-grown raspberries that were available at the same time. Most fruit was sold at roadside stands in the upscale markets of Concord and in the Boston area. The shelf life of the fruit was outstanding.

Hamilton did not grow his plants organically. Fungicides were applied three times to control botrytis gray mold; no fungicides were needed for cane or spur blight, anthracnose or powdery mildew. Insecticides controlled potato leafhopper.

Hamilton believes that once growers break even, possibly in the first year, the container technique can return $10 per plant in profit. At 10-foot row spacings, this could mean $40,000 per acre if berries are sold for $2.50 per half pint. Profits would be lower in less populated and less affluent areas. Hamilton thinks that other brambles, such as marionberries, boysenberries and tender blackberries such as Kiowa and Loch Ness, may do well in this system.

More information about this and other SARE projects is available at under “Funded projects.” The raspberry project is FNE02-418.

Source: “Contain yourself: Tender raspberries grown in a new way,” in Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture, Spring 2003, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, 10 Hills Bldg., 105 Carrigan Dr., Univ. of Vermont, Burlington VT 05405-0082.


An Easy Berry Bush

Autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata) is an easy-to-grow berry bush that could provide a lot of free freezer berries for a lot of Mainers; that grows almost anywhere, with zero maintenance or care; and that fixes its own nitrogen and improves the soil. My freezer got 19 pints of berries last October from ONE uncared-for bush (no fertilizers, no herbicides).

I LOVE my autumn olive. These bushes bear prolifically, even in dampish, partly shady places at the edge of the woods where not much other food would grow. They’re subtly beautiful bushes: silvery leaves, and in the fall showering cascades of round, red, silver-spotted berries. I pick berries under the “berryfall” accompanied by feasting catbirds and graycheek thrushes. I pick the berries including the little stems and whisk them unprocessed into the freezer. To eat, I put 1/4 cup or so of frozen berries, with stems, in a bowl and eat them frozen – plain or with maple syrup. I also throw a few into fish/rice dishes to add a burst of tartness they way Iranians use barberries.

The berries have medicinal benefit to me, in my opinion. I eat them to cure a sore throat, and I feel that they cure it faster and better than oranges.

Autumn olive is a controversial bush. In warmer parts of the country, it’s an invasive pest that is said to form dense thickets where trees don’t grow. On the Internet I see extremely hostile sites against Eleagnus umbellata, so I want to put in my extreme praise. I planted my bushes about 17 years ago in coastal zone 6, winter low -5 degrees F., and they have NOT spread, except for two seedlings. I got them from Hidden Springs Nursery in Tennessee, which says they don’t spread there either.

A highly satisfied planter,
– Sarah Dilworth, East Boothbay, Maine

Editor’s note: The USDA Agricultural Research Service recently found that autumn olive berries are up to 17 times higher than tomatoes in the antioxidant lycopene, which can help protect against cancer. Maine’s state horticulturist Ann Gibbs says that autumn olive is not listed on any invasive species lists in Maine, but it is considered one to watch. One source of autumn olive is Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchards, 432 Burnt Ridge Rd., Onalaska WA 98570; 360-985-2873; [email protected];


Backyard Berries Make Easy Edible Landscape

Yellow raspberries, lingonberries and gooseberries are delicious delicacies that are often difficult to find in stores. However, as interest in unusual fruit spreads, aficionados are discovering that growing these and other small fruit in their backyard gardens is very rewarding and enjoyable. The reason some of the lesser known jewels of the fruit garden are not readily found in stores is that they are fragile when they are at their flavor peak, not because they are difficult to grow. Small fruit are ideal for the busy gardener who is looking for something versatile, low maintenance and delicious, notes Stella Otto, award winning author of the Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden.

Along with being easy to care for, most berries and vine fruit make attractive additions to the landscape. Grape or kiwifruit vines will gracefully drape an arbor and provide respite from a hot summer sun, while shrubs such as currants, gooseberries or blueberries present wonderful shows of yellow or red foliage in the fall. Alpine strawberries make attractive borders, and lingonberries can be grown as ground covers under rhododendrons and azaleas or as short edgings in more formal settings.

Properly matching the type of fruit to be grown with the soil and climate conditions of the garden is one of the keys to a bountiful future, says Otto. Most small fruit plants and vines will grow successfully with a modest dose of annual attention – an application of fertilizer or compost, mulch for weed control, and regular pruning to aid in disease prevention and encourage large fruit size. Insects are generally not a severe problem on backyard berries and seldom require the time and effort that is needed for pest control in the vegetable garden.

[Editor’s note: Please note that Maine prohibits gooseberry and currant plants in most of the state.]

Adapted from the Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden, by Stella Otto. As a horticulturist with over 20 years of experience growing all types of fruit, Otto offers practical advice to home gardeners of all levels. As an award winning author, Otto has appeared on the Discovery Channel and written fruit gardening article for numerous national magazines. Copies of the Backyard Berry Book ($20.95) and its companion, the Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden ($19.95), are available from OttoGraphics, 8082 Maple City Rd., Maple City, MI 49664 or at bookstores nationwide.


Diesel Starting Tips

Before starting a diesel engine during cold weather, read the operator’s manual. Many makes of engines come with glow plug technology, which preheats the air entering the combustion chamber through the intake manifold, facilitating faster ignition as the piston compresses the air-fuel mixture. For other engines, cold-weather starting procedures may allow use of starting fluid, or “ether,” which makes the air-fuel mix more volatile in the compression stroke of the pistons. Use of starting fluid in an engine that is not designed for its use risks major damage to the engine.

Source: Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture, Jan. 15, 2003.


Hard-Working Wasps Help Protect Apple Crops

American apple growers in the Northeast can thank a European import for helping them battle the tarnished plant bug, one of the fiercest crop pests in North America. Agricultural Research Service entomologist William H. Day, with the agency’s Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Laboratory in Newark, Del., began releasing the parasitic wasp, Peristenus digoneutis, as a biological control for the pest in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The tarnished plant bug, Lygus lineolaris, is a pest of fruits, vegetables, cotton, crops grown for seed and tree seedlings. It is especially damaging to apples, strawberries and other fruits. Adult tarnished plant bugs puncture the immature fruit to feed on its juices. As the fruit grows, it becomes deformed at the bug’s feeding sites. Many apples end up so blemished or misshapen that they can’t be sold or can be sold only at a low price – for cider making, for example.

Tarnished plant bugs often live in alfalfa fields, where they feed and multiply even though they don’t attack alfalfa itself. When the alfalfa is cut for hay, large numbers of them fly to other crops.

To counter the tarnished plant bugs in alfalfa, Day established P. digoneutis in northern New Jersey alfalfa fields in 1984. Since then, Day has been monitoring three tarnished plant bug-infested alfalfa fields in northwestern New Jersey. During the past decade, Day has found that the beneficial wasps reduced the plant bugs’ numbers by 65 percent in these fields. The parasitic wasp has spread from New Jersey into seven other northeastern states, and into Canada. After the wasp arrived in New Hampshire, tarnished plant bug damage to apples in that state dropped by 63 percent.

The tiny P. digoneutis wasp is harmless to humans, but its females sting young plant bug nymphs and lay tiny eggs in them. About 10 days after the wasp eggs hatch into larvae, the nymphs die. Recent research has shown that half the tarnished plant bugs in strawberries are killed by the parasite, and additional research is under way to learn if fruit damage is reduced.

Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Alfredo Flores, (301) 504-1627, [email protected] More information about this research is in the May 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available at


Incorporate Manure Quickly to Reduce N Losses

Manure is a great source of nutrients for crops and, when managed well, can often eliminate most of the need for fertilizer. Average dairy manure contains about 23 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 gallons or 10 pounds of nitrogen per ton. However, about a third to a half of the nitrogen is in the ammonium, or urea, form and can easily be lost as ammonia gas when left on the soil surface. To maximize N for annual crops, manure should be tilled into the soil as soon as possible. A delay of even six or eight hours can mean a loss of about a quarter of the ammonium-nitrogen.

The nutrient content in manure can vary two- or three-fold from farm to farm. Sample the manure on your farm for a better estimate of the application rate needed for crops. Adjust fertilizer P and K rates by crediting those nutrients in manure.

Source: “Quick Manure Incorporation Reduces Nitrogen Losses,” in Extension News, reprinted in Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Ag., May 7, 2003.


Pesticides Quiz and Info Online

Has pesticide use decreased since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring? Are “inert ingredients” in pesticides really inert? To find out how much you know about pesticides and your food, you are invited to take a Pesticides Quiz on MOFGA’s Web site, Sharon Tisher, chair of MOFGA’s public policy committee and a MOFGA board member, developed the quiz three years ago and updated it recently. Detailed answers to her 16 questions are given.


Pruning drawing
Drawing by Toki Oshima

Pruning Tips

Legend has it that George Washington’s pruning skills sent his cherry tree to an untimely demise. The fruit trees in your garden don’t have to suffer a similar fate, if you heed the following timely tips.

First, why prune at all? Pruning removes weak, broken or diseased branches. It also allows sunlight into the interior of the tree, which aids growth and flower bud formation. Air circulation within a properly pruned tree or bush helps dry foliage quickly and prevents the spread of fungus diseases.

Systematically following these steps will make pruning a fruit tree as simple as 1-2-3. Remove branches in this order:

1) cracked, broken or diseased branches;

2) low branches that drag on the ground or hang below horizontal;

3) double leaders — those extra, vertical shoots that originate alongside and compete with the main growing stem. Your goal is to have one central, upright growing trunk;

4) watersprouts – those succulent, vertical, fast-growing shoots that arise from larger branches and rarely produce much fruit;

5) if two branches are rubbing on each other, remove the least needed one;

6) where two scaffold branches are crowding each other, remove one. Generally this should be the lower one, but common sense will tell you if one is noticeably better than the other. Your goal is to allow about 4 feet vertically between parallel branches.

7) Lastly, create holes for sunlight by cutting out several large side branches in the main canopy of the tree. Removing them will give you holes that also allow you to reach inside the tree canopy and pick the fruit.

For most people, the first cut is the hardest, but with a little practice, you’ll be moving right along. Regular, annual pruning will make the job easiest and will also be best for the tree.

Apple trees are normally pruned to a “central leader” system with one main upright growing trunk. Sweet and tart cherries and pears are pruned to a “modified leader” where the main trunk is cut back to multiple weaker upright branches between 10 and 12 feet. Peaches and plums are normally pruned to an “open vase” shape.

Quality, sharp pruning tools make the cleanest cuts. A bypass style clipper, a pair of loppers, and a hand-held pruning saw are all the home orchardist needs to do a good job of pruning. For more details on pruning fruit trees and berry bushes, see the Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden and the Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden, both by Stella Otto.

[Ed. note: Late winter and early spring are the best times to prune in Maine.]

Adapted from the Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden, by Stella Otto. As a horticulturist with over 20 years of experience growing all types of fruit, Otto offers practical advice to home gardeners of all levels. An award winning author, Otto has appeared on the Discovery Channel and written fruit gardening articles for numerous national magazines. Copies of the Backyard Orchardist ($19.95) and its companion, the Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden ($20.95) are available from OttoGraphics, 8082 Maple City Rd., Maple City, MI 49664 or at bookstores nationwide and online.


Tips for Starting a CSA

Experienced operators of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms have the following suggestions, based on a survey conducted by the Ontario-based CSA Resource Center:

1. Talk to other CSA farmers.

They’re the most helpful source of information for setting up a CSA farm. Experience farming first (e.g., by apprenticing on a CSA farm or by market gardening) to see if it suits your needs and abilities. If you have little growing experience, don’t start with a CSA right away.

2. Start with a small group to experiment for the first year to find a manageable cropping plan.

“Realize the difference between farming and gardening; make sure you can do a 30- to 40-crop polyculture before you sign up 100 shares.” Also important are capital (“You can’t expect to make money from the start”), another source of income and long-term access to land.

3. Be prepared to work very hard.

The first year is the hardest, but it gets easier with time, as members spread the word to potential customers about the CSA and thus do your recruiting for you. In this sample, most of the workload in the CSA is carried by the farmers and the families. When members contribute, they help with distribution, harvesting and outreach. Although having members experience the farm firsthand is part of the idea behind CSA, many of the farmers find that this requires a lot of their energy to organize.

4. Try to set up a core group.

Half of the CSAs had managed to set up a core group of members that they can consult regularly, especially for help in times of heavy workload and outreach to members. For example, two members on one CSA took over all of the tasks involved in providing a newsletter to members; another set up a committee to manage the garden’s irrigation system. As a variation on a core group, another CSA (which works on a pay-as-you-order basis) has set up a rotating committee of members coordinating orders and drop-off outlets. “Independently they need to figure out order details and do the marketing for the farm themselves.”

5. Research consumers based in the area.

One of the biggest problems was the distance to members. It is difficult to build a strong membership base from the local communities. When members are scattered in different locations, a lot of time and finances shift toward transportation. And if members are far away, getting them to become involved in the farm is even more difficult. One five-year CSA operator believes that communities with a high proportion of 15- to 35-year-olds with children are the best targets.

6. Depend on many marketing outlets.

Most CSAers depend on various strategies to sell their produce. “Always grow a cushion of excess veggies, with some backup form of marketing the excess,” said one six-year CSA veteran.

7. Try to carry on through the winter.

In Canada, the CSA session is very short – four months average in this sample. Few offer produce through the winter as part of their CSA; others keep selling to members on a separate pay-as-you-order basis. Most concentrate on fresh vegetables and herbs, with fewer than half offering fruits/berries and storage crops. Very few offer other products, such as flowers, value-added foods (e.g., pesto, jams, maple syrup, etc.), chicken or eggs within their CSA operation.

8. Cooperate with other farmers.

Many mentioned the difficulty of providing a wide diversity within such a short time. Sharing the risks with consumer members includes the risk of failed crops. Half of the responding CSAs keep to this principle, communicating difficulties to members. However, many are not comfortable with the concept and buy from or exchange with other farmers to supplement losses.

Source: “Thinking of Starting a CSA? Here Are Some Tips,” from Cornell Extension,” reprinted in Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Ag., April 23, 2003.

For a complete listing of MOFGA-Certified Farms, go to:


MOF&G Cover Winter 2003-2004