Methods for improving quality and conditions of ground cherry production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2015: $6,889.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Lisa Garfield
Calliope Farm

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: cherries


  • Crop Production: low tunnels

    Proposal summary:

    Calliope Farm is experimenting with techniques to increase the viability of ground cherries as a fresh market and value-added crop, by improving harvesting conditions. A combination of grafting, pruning, and trellising will be employed to create a more upright habit that eases time and labor intensity, while a net trough will catch the fallen fruit to eliminate ground contact. Data on time spent installing infrastructure, harvest times, quantities and quality will be collected and analyzed to determine the efficacy and effectiveness of methods. Results will be shared at an on-farm field day, and at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore 2015 Small Farm Conference.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Three, 3’ wide x100’ long, raised beds will be planted with Cossack Pineapple ground cherries, a variety that we have been growing for the last six years, at 2’ spacing, on black ground cover with drip irrigation. One row, our control group, will be treated as we have previously, allowing branches and foliage to grow with no interference.
    A second row will be planted with stakes driven every five feet, to support two plants between every set, and plants will be pruned throughout the season to create a more upright habit that can be contained between twine, similar to methods used for tomatoes. A third row will be planted, staked, and strung at the same spacing, but will contain scions from Cossack pineapple ground cherries grafted to a root stock of Verde Puebla tomatillos. Tomatillos are in the same family as ground cherries, and already have a more upright habit, with branches emerging higher on the stem, potentially allowing for less pruning prior to trellising between twine. Though the primary objective is to take advantage of the more convenient growth habit of the tomatillo, it will be interesting to observe if other traits, like larger fruit size, or staying on the plant until ripe, will show up in the ground cherries. The ground cherries will be grafted at Winter Harvest Farm/Silver Seed Transplants, operated by a local organic grower who has experience grafting tomatoes and grows commercial transplants. I also plan to attend a grafting workshop that is being offered at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore this spring so that I can help and learn the process. I will grow the plants for the non-grafted groups in my propagation tunnel, using the same soil mix and seed source for all transplants.

    All experimental rows will have a netting system designed to catch the fruit before it hits the ground. I will purchase netting that has been designed to keep insects off of plants and comes in a width of 7 feet wide and 100 feet long, with buttons every inch. The netting will be cut lengthwise down the middle, and reversed so that the buttons can be used to secure the netting around the stem of the plant, under the canopy, with the edges pulled upwards and attached to cross pieces that have been attached to each stake to create a “t” shape. The netting will create a trough, above the ground, for the fruit to fall into, allowing harvesters to collect fruit more efficiently, and with minimized bending or kneeling. If the insect netting with buttons that I am interested in using is not available for any reason, the same effect can be achieved using other types of netting and hardware, i.e. staples, clips, velcro to create the trough effect. All of the materials (black ground cloth, t-posts, netting), except the twine, can be re-used for multiple seasons.
    I will replicate the experiment, using the same plant stock, timeline and materials, at the Lower Eastern Shore Research and Education Center (LESREC), in their 3 acre organic plot, which is located approximately 9 miles from my farm. While I am aware that randomizing the experiment by planting in blocks may be useful to mitigate vagaries and variables, i have chosen to keep the different plantings techniques in discreet rows so that "real world" harvesting protocols can be observed and assessed.
    Myself, and one farmhand or intern will be tasked with recording all aspects of the ground cherry experiments, with one or both of us making weekly trips to the replication planting at LESREC. A spreadsheet will be created to record the following data: time spent preparing beds, planting, staking, pruning, stringing; time spent harvesting each individual row (on average, twice per week, July thru September), yields from each row, fruit quality, and weather, as well as miscellaneous observations. Harvesters will be asked for feedback to gather additional insight about the differences in labor between each set of plantings, and their preferences. Results will also be compared with records from previous seasons to give a broader foundation for comparison.

    March 15- graft ground cherry scions to tomatillo root stock-Pat Dolbey and Lisa Garfield 8hrs
    March 30- start all other ground cherry transplants-Lisa Garfield 2hrs
    (week of) May 7-prepare beds at Calliope Farm and LESREC- Lisa Garfield and farm-hand. 12hrs
    (week of) May 15- plant 6 beds of ground cherries (300 plants) at Calliope Farm and LESREC. -Lisa Garfield and farm-hand. 6hrs

    (week of) June 1- Add stakes for trellising and begin weekly monitoring and pruning of experimental rows at both locations, stringing as soon as plants have reached 1' height (bottom string 8" above ground). Lisa Garfield and farm-hand. 3hrs.
    July 1- or when plants set flowers, attach netting catchment system below the plant canopy. Lisa Garfield 6hrs. July 15-September 30-begin twice weekly harvest, weighing and monitoring fruit quality. Lisa Garfield and farm-


    hand -6hrs per plot/per week
    August 15-Field Day at Calliope Farm and/or LESREC
    November 6/7- present findings at University of Maryland Eastern Shore Small Farm Conference.

    A field day will be held at Calliope Farm and/or LESREC during the growing season so that interested growers and educators can view the experiment and methodology. My technical advisor will advertise the field day through email, and via the University of Maryland extension website. Additionally, flyers hung at various location (e.g.extension offices, local farm supply store) will announce the field day.

    We will also have an opportunity to present the results of the experiment at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore 2015 Small Farm Conference, held in November each year.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.