Trellis Gives Lift to Vegetable Production

6/15/2013 7:00 AM
By Brian Yearick Central Pa. Correspondent

SPRING MILLS, Pa. — Leslie Zuck, founding executive director of Pennsylvania Certified Organic, was the host for a high tunnel twilight meeting on June 5 co-sponsored by PCO and the Pennsylvania Women’s Agriculture Network.

Zuck is the owner of Common Ground Organic Farm, 120 acres tucked away on a mountainside near Potters Mills, Pa.

The farm has been certified organic for more than 25 years, and Zuck raises everything from onions to dairy heifers there.

The meeting focused on the trellis system the farm uses to raise its vegetable crops.

A trellis is a simple structure built to support climbing plants. Zuck’s system is simply a T-post driven into the ground every five to six plants with electric fence wire connecting the posts.

The plant attaches itself to the wire and grows upward instead of outward. Instead of the vegetables lying on the ground, where they have difficulty getting nutrients from the plant, they are off the ground where they can more easily flourish.

Keeping vegetables off the ground also prevents them from rotting from contact with the soil.

“Trellising increases production by decreasing your work,” Zuck said. “We can now get out of 120 plants what used to take 400 plants.

“The plants are now closer to your level,” she said, “which also helps with harvesting. It is a lot easier on your back.”

Another feature at Common Ground Organic Farm is the use of mulch on all the vegetable fields, mostly rotted hay and corn stalks, which eliminates most of the weeds from the field.

The mulch also serves as a conservation tool for water. A field covered in mulch will retain moisture for three to four weeks without rain.

Another challenge, once the crops are planted, is to keep animals away, and Zuck has an answer for that, as well.

“Scarecrows,” she said. “Take a T-post and tie round pie pans to it. Not only will the pans make noise, but they also create shiny flashes as they swing in the sunlight.

“Plus, it is a good excuse to eat a lot of pie,” she said.

But you have to be smart where you put the scarecrows.

“Use the scarecrows near plants that the animals are most attracted to,” Zuck said.

She also recommended getting into a routine. Always go check on the plants at the same time, which will ensure that the plants will be checked every day.

The farm also has a hoop house, or high tunnel, and is planning on building another one this summer.

Hoop houses are good for catching up if you have to plant something late, Zuck said. Start the plants in the hoop house, and once they mature some, transplant them into the field.

Hoop houses are also great for protecting plants from bugs, particularly beetles, which do not like the hot and humid atmosphere found in the hoop house.

The heat and humidity helps plants grow and breaks down organic matter faster, allowing the use of a lot more organic matter inside than out in the field.

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