Note to readers, attached is the complete final report for FNE95-104.
This project was a joint undertaking of Eric Rice, in Frederick County, Maryland, in the Appalachian foothills, and Bill Hastings, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Both are producers of organic strawberries and vegetables. The main point of the project was to extend the growing season in both directions, to take advantage of the higher prices that off-season production can command.
For strawberries, both men applied composted manure to their fields, which they hilled and covered with black plastic. They transplanted plugs of strawberry plants (cv. Chandler) into holes in the plastic, then left the plants covered under protective foam sheets through the winter. They removed these sheets in the spring, putting them back in place occasionally at night, when frost threatened. They found this technique produced plenty of growth in the fall, and encouraged early blossoming and maturity in the spring. Some sap beetles were observed the second year, otherwise their plantings were quite free of pests, which they attribute to the compost, plastic mulch, and clean-picking.
Mr. Hastings was able to harvest strawberries as early as April; his yield was large, the fruit themselves were large, and his price was consistently high, at $2/pint. Mr. Rice also obtained yields that were early for his area, but since the season comes late in the foothills, his crop was in competition with the bulk of the crop from areas such as the Eastern Shore, and he was able to market his strawberries at only an ordinary price. Mr. Rice concludes that the technique is worth the effort for the Eastern Shore, but not for Frederick County.
The second part of this experiment concerned extending the growing season into the fall. Tomatoes and winter squash were transplanted into mowed vetch in June; in some fields the vetch was mowed completely, while in others only strips were mowed, and half the vetch left standing. They found that the vetch was most effectively leveled with a cultipactor. They recommend mowing in strips, as this provides habitat for beneficial insects, and facilitates reestablishment of the cover. While this technique did permit extension of the fall vegetable harvest, it also meant foregoing spring production, since during the spring the field was still under the cover crop of vetch. For this reason Mr. Hastings has not continued the practice, though Mr. Rice has.