This season, CFSA asks about tomatoes, weed control, irrigation,
and shade for livestock

Drip irrigation saves water. Photo from

Jesse Adkins of Hurricane Creek Farms in Pelzer, SC
Tom Elmore of Thatchmore Farm in Leicester, NC
Karen McSwain, CFSA’s Organic Initiative Coordinator
Richard Holcomb of Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, NC

Are you trying anything new this year with tomatoes?  New varieties, pest management or greenhouse production techniques?

JESSE: We started planting our new crop the first of July. This year we tried grafting our varieties on a good root stock to improve disease resistance and plant vigor.  Our new 1.25 million Btu wood boiler will improve our winter environment. We usually introduce beneficial insects in the fall when the plants are moved into the greenhouse based on what pests are present.

TOM: We are trying outside tomatoes with a focus on the late blight resistant cultivars from the NCSU Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center (Dr. Randy Gardner and Dr. Dilip Panthe) and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  In the mountains, we cannot count on any field tomato crop without some strategy to deal with late blight.  Some copper fungicides are OMRI approved but they wash off with rain.  Reliable organic tomato production in our area requires either a plastic cover or strong resistance.

What weed strategies are you planning to use this summer?

TOM: We continue to use landscape fabric on most of our vegetable production area.  We are experimenting with fabric over no-till mowed rye cover and saw success with it last year.  The fabric keeps the residue damp to accelerate decay during the growing season.  It also reduces any problems with weeds in the gaps in the killed cover crop.

What tips do you have for irrigation strategies that conserve water?

KAREN: A great way to reduce the amount of water needed for crops in the summer is to use either a natural or synthetic mulch to cover the soil.  Covering the soil reduces water loss through evaporation, thus requiring less irrigation on your part.  However, if you cover the soil with a synthetic material, make sure it is either water permeable or you have irrigation lines in place because the plants will have a hard time getting natural water when it finally does rain.

Second, use a drip irrigation system whenever possible. You will have less water loss due to evaporation, which happens before the water even touches the ground! If you must use overhead irrigation, make sure you irrigate first thing in the morning or in the evening once the sun goes down.

If you are currently using overhead irrigation and want to convert to a micro-irrigation system, the NRCS EQIP-OI program may be able to provide financial and technical assistance to help you make the transition.

How do you provide shade for your animals in the heat of the summer?

RICHARD: We try to incorporate tree areas into all of our pastures.  We also use mobile shade structures built on old trailer frames.

JESSE: We always leave a fringe of trees in the pasture for shade. All of our animals are Angus so their black hide heats up in the summer sun. Keeping a good source of fresh water close is critical and so is having ample forage so grazing can be completed in the early morning before it heats up. Usually by 9-10:00 the cattle should be full and moved into the shade.

Did you find these expert tips helpful?  Want to learn more? Join CFSA to receive our quarterly Stewardship Newsletter! 

Related Articles