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One educator’s quest to address a pressing issue.

by Jason Detzel

I am a regular visitor to the Stewart’s Shops in my neck of the woods, and I’m not ashamed to admit that their ice cream and ready-to-eat pizza constitute a significant portion of my diet when I am on the road. This morning I was in the Stewarts bathroom.  Firstly, I would like to commend them on keeping that place immaculate for that time of the day.  Morning hour is a busy and cranky time for many people but the employees were joking and carrying on with the regulars.

But while I was in the bathroom, I noticed something on the wall. There is a length of wallpaper that runs the perimeter of all Stewart’s bathrooms. It consists of a bucolic scene of a farmer tending to his land on a beautiful fall day. As I began to study the picture something caught my eye. The cattle were in the stream!  Alarm bells began to ring in my head and I thought about telling the cashier, but then I considered what she would think about the crazy man commenting on the cattle on the bathroom wallpaper.  So I gritted my teeth and headed into the extension office in order to write this week’s livestock update.

Livestock should not be in our streams and waterways.  The water on our property is a resource to be carefully managed and cared for.  It is easy to let the stock make their way to water and help themselves to a drink but this can cause all sorts of issues for you that will ultimately degrade the water quality of you and those around you.

The offending wallpaper.
Credit Jason Detzel

First and foremost, the hoof action causes erosion to the stream bank, which affects the water in several ways.  The degradation breaks down the bank and allows sediment to run into the stream, lowering the water quality.  Not only does this affect the water when the stock are present, but also when they leave because they have eroded the plant life around the steam, and every time it rains the water will remove more sediment from the banks, thus furthering the erosion. This constant erosion will eventually break down the banks enough that the steam will become too shallow to utilize or the banks too steep to traverse.  It is even more of a problem if the bank is shaded; in the summer, animals will spend a good portion of their time loafing in the shade.  This concentrates manure and urine near the stream bank where it is washed directly into the water during the next storm.

The other major issue is the nutrient pollution that is introduced into the water.  If stock are around the water for any length of time, so too are their manure and urine.  These deposits can add significant pollution to the water and if multiple properties allow their animals in the water, all of this can cause health problems for animals and people alike.  There is a direct link between toxic algae blooms and E.coli contamination in areas where animal manure is being washed into waterways.

There is a simple solution to this issue:  keep your animals fenced away from the water.  There are any number of pumps that can fit your operation, whether you have access to power or are in a remote area.  There is also the possibility of flash grazing for short periods of time near water or allowing reduced access to watering areas so animals will not loaf or wade in the water.  No matter how you decide to tackle the problem, you and your animals will be better off with the clean water.

So, I decided to fire off a letter to Stewart’s urging them to change their wallpaper to a more mindful scene.  Maybe a flerd mob grazing a small paddock clearly showing a solar powered pump filling their stock tanks and a group of local kids playing in the crystal clear stream.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get a free ice cream out of it.

Below is a link to a bulletin outlining how cattle can contaminate waterways.

I ended up writing a letter to the Stewarts shop and they kindly got back to me.  They mentioned that they appreciated my concern, but they are currently in the process of changing all Stewarts bathrooms to tile, and that this will eliminate the offending wallpaper.  They never did offer me any free ice cream but I’ve still been going anyway.  PS: the happy camper flavor was my favorite this year!

Jason Detzel is a Livestock Educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County. He can be reached at

Attendees toured Cross Island Farms to gain inspiration from a diverse farm operation.

by Alyssa Couse

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County recently hosted its second farm tour for veterans, active duty military and families.  The first tour was held back in May at Center Dale Farm, which is a veteran owned and run Angus beef farm.  This tour was hosted by Cross Island Farms (CIF), a diverse organic operation on Wellesley Island.  David Belding and Dani Baker gave attendees advice and a detailed tour, starting in one of the most unique features, their edible forest garden, or as Dani refers to it, “the Garden of Eatin”.

Alyssa Couse of CCE Jefferson welcome’s attendees and shared about the Cornell Small Farms Program resources. Photo by Alyssa Couse.

The group gathered at the entrance of the stone walkway as Dani described the inspiration of the garden and her hopes for it for the future.  With 7 layers of vegetation, from ground cover to tree branches, the edible forest garden offers herbs, fruits, hops, and several exotic species that do indeed have edible parts.  This especially appealed to those interested in growing produce and hops.

David then led the group to the first four legged habitat.  Three sows came to the edge of the fence to check out the visitors.  Cross Island Farms sells USDA cuts of pork, including bacon.  After a lengthy farm visit this spring, I was treated to a BLT sandwich made with CIF bacon, lettuce and tomatoes and without exaggeration, it was the best one I’ve ever had.  David and Dani previously hosted a veteran volunteer, Infantry Capitan a Sam Palmer (featured in the spring edition of Small Farms Quarterly) who took what he learned from the CIF practices and the Cornell Small Farms Program and applied it to his own farm in New Hampshire where he too now raises organic pork.  Check out his Sapling Forest Farm Facebook page:

Next stop was the path alongside the livestock chute where animals can be weighed and given a closer look if need be.  Several beds of produce and greenhouses lined the other side of the walkway.  Dani talked about the fabric coverings they use to help protect the crops while still allowing 85% of sunlight through.

Last stop was the livestock pasture.  Holy goats!  All 30+ group members got to visit with the goats up close and personal in their pasture.  Some came right up for scratches but most kept on eating along with the Belted Galloway beef cattle in the background.  These goats are used for both milk and meat and the cattle are raised for organic grass fed beef.  David and Dani shared some wisdom on soil health and pasture management as it is the foundation of any successful farm.   Attendees asked questions and walked the pasture as Dani finished preparing lunch.  The meal featured hamburgers with fresh tomatoes, pasta salad, bean salad and a beet salad all featuring ingredients from the farm.

Given the discussions over lunch and positive feedback after the event, this was a beneficial experience for attendees and the hosts.  The diversity of Cross Island Farms ensured that there was something to perk everyone’s interest.   Stay tuned for the next farm tour!

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882. Funding for the program is also supported by the Planting Seeds Initiative spearheaded by State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-48th District, Chair of the NYS Senate Agriculture Committee and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Alyssa Couse is the Agricultural Outreach Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.  Part of her job is to help connect transitioning soldiers and veterans with resources and connections in the agricultural industry.  She can be reached at or 315-788-8450

Here are links to the CCE Jefferson website and to the North East Beginning Farmers Project Farm Ops page.  Any questions feel free to contact Alyssa at

Salamander Springs Farm uses powerful cover crop sequences to produce crops, forage and seed.

by Brian Caldwell & Ryan Maher

Susana Lein is ahead of the curve.  She has put together so many practices at Salamander Springs Farm near Berea, Kentucky that we can only scratch the surface in this article. Permaculture principles are at work in all aspects of the farm, from off-grid energy and contour swales, to no-till production of staple grains, beans, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and herbs. Please see her photo site, for a full breadth of the farm.

Winter wheat cover mix emerging within previous season’s residue (2017, Salamander Springs Farm)

Susana follows many of the concepts of Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, adapted to her middle-US climate and cleared hillside site.  One of his favorite methods was relay cropping, or sowing a crop into a field while another is still growing there.  This is one way Susana avoids tillage while growing an impressive array of crops.  Pinto and black turtle beans are important staple protein sources that she sells online and at local farmers markets and stores. Here is Susana’s basic method for growing dry beans on a small scale without tillage, utilizing relay cropping in exemplary fashion:

From late fall until spring, a winter cover crop mixture covers the field.  The mix is mostly winter wheat or rye (to provide straw mulch in the spring) with 20-30% being crimson clover, Austrian winter peas, daikon radish, turnip, mustards and other brassicas.  After the wheat or rye has headed out (close to maturity but still green) in mid-May, Susana broadcasts bean seed into the standing winter crop.  On the same day, the winter mix is scythed down, mulching the seed.  Soon, bean plants find their way through the residue. The cover crop mulch suppresses weeds until the beans grow to cover the field (without rows) through the summer.  In August, when the bean pods are mostly yellow and beginning to dry on the plants, Susana broadcasts buckwheat and cowpeas into the maturing crop.  Within a few days the bean plants are cut and removed from the field (the beans continue to dry in the granary for later processing).  The buckwheat germinates quickly, creating a “smother crop” to suppress weeds.  In warm weather, the cowpeas begin to dominate after a few weeks, creating extra biomass and cover.  In October and early November, the wheat or rye cover crop mixture (described above) is broadcast by hand into the late summer smother crop.  The buckwheat and cowpeas grow to partial maturity until killed by a hard frost; the winter cover soon grows up through it.  Thus the cycle starts again.

Winter wheat cover mix in April with chickens in background (2013, Salamander Springs Farm)

Strips of the field in dry bean production are rotated from year to year with strips sown with buckwheat, “Iron & Clay” cowpeas and 10% milo (grain sorghum) for poultry forage and cover crop seed production.   Over the years, pintos, black beans and this summer forage mix have marched back and forth across the field.  The summer forage mix is sown in May into the standing winter cover crop which is scythed—the same as for the dry bean cash crops.  Buckwheat and cowpeas germinate easily without much cover or rain.  Chickens move through other sections of the field during the spring and early summer, tearing down the winter cover crop to eat the wheat, rye, etc.  After 7-10 days, the chickens move on, and Susana sows the summer mix in their wake. She shakes the broadcast seed under the straw that the poultry have left on the ground with a fork or rake, sometimes spreading it around more evenly than they left it. The triple-whammy of the buckwheat, cowpea & milo crops plus chickens has strongly suppressed weeds while providing high quality chicken forage.  Chickens can also help cycle fertility in the system, feeding on weeds, cover crops, and soil biota and spreading manure.

As the summer cover crops mature, the chickens go back through these sections of the field.  Chickens love buckwheat and cowpeas at the green pod stage, and milo is a staple in their winter feed mix, which Susana also grows in her cornfields.  Cowpeas planted by mid-June produce viable seed, which Susana harvests before the chickens are moved in. Buckwheat planted by the end of June sows itself for a second crop while dry beans and cowpeas are maturing in the field.  Though originally planted in strips, the field becomes more of a patchwork of dry beans, diverse cover crops, and poultry forage.

How can this approach work with its glaring lack of tillage? 

The system takes advantage of some powerful basic biology.  First and foremost, as Susana points out, not disturbing the soil keeps most weed seeds in a dormant state.  They just are not stimulated to germinate.  In fall she sows winter wheat, crimson clover, and radish which are “winter annuals”, species adapted to grow in cool weather.  Germinating in the fall, they survive through the winter in her region, and grow strongly in spring.  In early summer, they are programmed to make seed and die.  These plants have evolved to be highly competitive in the cooler months.

Beans in foreground with patchwork quilt of summer mix following each chicken foraging of winter wheat mix. (July 2014, Salamander Springs Farm)

In contrast, buckwheat, cowpeas, milo, and dry beans are warm-season plants that thrive in summer and die at the first frost in October.  Beans are not particularly competitive; but buckwheat and milo are champions in that area.  In Kentucky, cowpeas are vigorous growers.

Ever changing conditions have taught Susana to experiment and diversify her cover crop mixes over the years. Cool-loving species dominate and suppress weeds from fall through late spring, creating a substantial amount of top growth (biomass) along with soil biology.  They are cut down when this biomass is at maximum, but at that point it is too late for them to regrow.  Meanwhile, beans have just been sown. The winter mix residue covers the seed with a mulch and suppresses germinating weeds. Now it is the beans’ turn to thrive, with long days and hot weather.  After they mature, there is still enough summer left for buckwheat and cowpeas to compete against recalcitrant weeds.  Then the season cools down and the process repeats—but next year the dry beans will be planted in neighboring sections of the field where weeds have been hit hard by chickens and the forage mix.

Salamander Springs Farm apprentice Mirra Shapiro practices sowing winter cover into summer mix. Buckwheat & cowpeas have replaced cash bean crop at center. (October 2013; before frost kill)

The use of broadcast sowing, considered old fashioned and inefficient by some, also has advantages.  Seed is not confined to rows with spaces in between where weeds can become established.  The random pattern covers the soil more completely when spread uniformly.  The mulch from the previous crop assures moisture retention and soil contact.  But perhaps the biggest plus of hand sowing is that no soil disturbance needs to happen during planting, and the increased levels of soil biology, health and tilth are not reduced by tillage.  Uniform broadcast sowing and scything are arts that Susana has enjoyed honing as well as teaching apprentices and workshop participants.  Susana puts tall stakes at 25 foot intervals to guide her hand sowing.

Beans are a good crop to grow with this method, though Susana has adapted it for others.  They have large seeds and can easily grow up through a fairly thick layer of mulch. Beans are nitrogen-fixers and have a low soil nitrogen demand.  This is an advantage over weeds if the winter cover crop has reduced nitrogen levels at the soil surface.  Beans also do not require the full summer season like tomatoes or winter squash.  This gives a bit more flexibility in planting and harvest dates, allowing efficient use of cover crops, such as delayed mowing of winter covers until they are easy to kill, and harvesting beans in time for a second buckwheat flush.

So goes the theory, and Susana implements it well.  There are a few weeds that can tolerate all that competition; she has sometimes removed curly dock and ironweed tops before they set seed.  In a cooler climate, perennials like quackgrass may be problematic.  If weeds do get out of hand in the summer cash crop, there is always the option of scything down everything, letting chickens forage, then planting an ultra-competitive mix of buckwheat, sorghum sudangrass, soybeans, sunflowers, and Japanese millet in a rescue operation.  But Susana has not needed to do this.

Reduced Tillage Project

Reduced tillage practices take many forms. This story is part of a series featuring organic vegetable growers that have adopted reduced tillage practices on the way to greater farm sustainability. Experienced growers at diverse scales are tackling weeds, managing rotations, and integrating cover crops while minimizing soil disturbance. Look for past and future SFQ issues to learn the practices that are helping these growers build better soils. Visit this link or contact Ryan Maher of the Cornell SFP for more information on this project.

Annual weeds like ragweed and foxtail, which predominated in early years, are hardly seen today.  Perennials like ironweed and dock have a much weaker presence and depleted root energy storage.  Susana saw them as “pioneer species” on a ridge top devoid of topsoil when she started in 2001, but their presence today is much diminished.

Can this system be adapted to cooler regions like New York State?  (Maybe even with mechanized mowing?)  It is certainly worth experimenting, but start small.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Start with a relatively weed-free field, especially perennials.
  • Try adding small amounts of hairy vetch or winter peas to the winter mix, to see what might work best. Susana tried hairy vetch but doesn’t like how it gets tangled during scything and can itself become a weed if not killed effectively.
  • Crimson clover is not reliable in colder areas. Daikon (tillage radish) is not recommended after  mid-September in upstate NY; it will die before making much biomass. Try including these and other brassicas in a late summer mix with buckwheat.
  • For a warm season legume, cowpeas are not as well adapted in the north, but forage field peas are. They will grow well in both the warm and cool parts of the season. Soybeans work well in warm months too.
  • One notable aspect of this approach is that strong weed-suppressive measures are implemented right away—the competitive cover crops and chickens are immediately planned into the system. This can help keep weeds, especially perennials, at low levels.  Cutting out those practices will likely result in problems.
  • Susana recommends going through a few diverse, heavy biomass cover crop cycles with zero tillage before starting the cash crop. Years of intensive tillage can lead to compaction and organic matter depletion, so focus on improving soil biological activity first.

Thanks to Susana Lein for extensive contributions and feedback on this article.


Brian Caldwell ( and Ryan Maher ( research reduced tillage practices for organic vegetable systems at Cornell University.

Winter workshops on novel cover cropping and strip tillage practices for vegetables

Attend the 2018 Empire State Producers Expo (Jan. 18 in Syracuse, NY) or the NOFA-NY Winter Conference (Jan. 19 in Saratoga Springs, NY) to learn how you can integrate cover cropping and reduced tillage practices while overcoming the residue and weed management challenges. Hear Janaki Fisher-Merritt from the Food Farm (Wrenshall, MN) discuss how they have worked to incorporate cover crops in a diverse rotation with cover crop fallows, interseeding, and cut-and-carry mulching. Ryan Maher, from the Cornell SFP, will share research results from the latest trials on strip tillage in winter hardy cover crops and adaptations for organic cropping systems. Come to think through the approaches and tools that will work to reduce inputs and improve productivity on your farm.

Baskets to Pallets Training offered in NNY

Are you looking to diversify sales beyond the farmers market, CSA and farm stand?    Food hubs, grocery stores, restaurants and cooperatives are looking for your products to meet growing consumer demand for local and sustainably-grown food.  Yet, doing successful business with wholesale buyers requires planning and preparation.  Ensure your success by joining us for ‘Baskets to Pallets’, a comprehensive two day introduction to selling wholesale.  The course will take place on Monday, January 29th and Tuesday, January 30th from 10:00am – 4:00pm at Tug Hill Vineyards in Lowville, NY. The ‘Baskets to Pallets’ course is designed for farmers of all enterprises and will cover building relationships with buyers, customer management and record keeping, pricing, grading and packaging, uniformity and consistency, and food safety, among many other topics!  This fun course includes plenty of hands-on activities and opportunities for peer learning and small group discussion. Cost is $35.00. To register, contact Violet Stone at 607-255-9227 or email

At the 2017 NY Veterans in Agriculture Conference on November 29, 125 individuals gathered to celebrate the efforts of veterans in agriculture and the launch of the New York Farmer Veteran Coalition (NYFVC). New York is the eighth state to form its own chapter of this national organization that supports veterans who have answered the call to serve our country by growing food. Michael O’Gorman, the organization’s founder, joined the celebration and led a panel discussion of farmer veterans, including NYFVC board president John Lemondes (Elly’s Acres), Justin Tucker (Tucker’s Black Angus Ranch), and Kristi Mangine (Fruit of the Fungi). Those interested in learning more can visit the chapter’s new Facebook page,

The conference, hosted by the Cornell Small Farms Program and the Farmer Veteran Coalition, showcased some of the many resources that are available to veterans in agriculture. Be on the lookout for educational workshops from FarmOps partners at CCE of Jefferson County, CCE of Allegany County, CCE of Broome County, Heroic Foods, and Equicenter. Other initiatives include On the Job Training opportunities, a veterans in agriculture listerv, and networking activities. Resources and information about these efforts are available on the FarmOps website,

Funding for these initiatives is provided though support from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882, and by the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation.

Log-Grown Shiitake: Economics and Management for a Profitable Crop

The Cornell Small Farms Program is offering a one-day workshop this winter in eight locations around New York State about the marketing and business aspects of growing and selling log-grown shiitake mushrooms.

Anyone who a resident of New York State or who farms in New York  and is growing commercially, starting a new enterprise, or considering commercial production is welcome to attend. The workshop content will cover aspects of production important to selling mushrooms in New York, including safety, sanitation, marketing, and regulations.

Those who attend one of the workshops or the online livestream are eligible to participate in an advanced training group and receive one-on-one support for the 2018 growing season. Details of this opportunity will be provided at the workshop.


Friday, January 19 at the Wyoming County Extension, 36 Center St. Suite B, Warsaw, NY 14569

Saturday, January 20 at the Schuyler County Extension, 323 Owego St, Montour Falls, New York 14865

Friday, January 26 at Clearpool Model Forest, 33 Clearpool Rd, Carmel Hamlet, NY 10512

Saturday, January 27 at Project Farmhouse, 76 East 13th Street, New York, NY 10003

Friday, February 2 at NYS Fairgrounds, 581 State Fair Blvd; Syracuse, New York 13209

Saturday, February 3 at Jefferson County Cooperative Extension, 203 N Hamilton St, Watertown, NY 13601

Friday, February 16 at the Agroforestry Resource Center, 6055 NY-23, Acra, NY 12405

Saturday, February 17 at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall, 1610 NY-22, Essex, NY 12936

LIVE WEBINAR TRAINING: Friday, March 2nd online (access anywhere with a high-speed connection)

See a Map of the locations: Workshops run from 9am to 4pm, with a catered lunch included. To Register: visit Cost: $30/person includes lunch and handouts (online livestream 3/2 is $20). No person will be turned away for lack of funds- contact for info.

Funding for this project is provided by the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant and administered through the New York Farm Viability Institute.


The Cornell Small Farms Program offers over 20 online courses each year on a wide range of topics. You can learn more about each course at:

Week of Jan 15 – Feb 23

Week of Feb 26 – April 6

Cornell Small Farms Receives BFRDP funding to support farm labor

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced awards made to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). The BFRDP program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, aims to help address issues associated with the rising age and decrease in the number of U.S. farmers and ranchers.

Based upon our collective experience and findings from past BFRDP projects, we are convinced that labor readiness – being prepared to manage and hire skilled employees – is crucial for beginning farmers (BFs) to mature their skills, scale up their businesses, and reach the milestone of 10 years in business.

Our team will create new “Labor Ready Farmer” curriculum, on-line courses and videos, plain language guides and visual resources, community-based training programs and new networks to address the emerging needs of two underserved BF groups: (1) Latino agriculture employees wanting to climb the ladder from labor to management to ownership and (2) advanced beginners who have been farming for 3-10 years and need to improve their labor planning and management to scale up their businesses.

Collaborators on the project currently include: Cornell Small Farms Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension, GrowNYC’s FARMroots, Cornell Farmworker Program, Kitchen Table Consultants, Farm Credit East, Caracol Interpreters Cooperative, and Bent Creative. Additional funding and technical support for this project comes from, the USDA, the NYS Office of New Americans, and the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets, and the Local Economies Project. Workshops are already underway. Learn more at : For more information, contact Kat McCarthy at 607-255-9911 or


by Guy K. Ames

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) has great potential for commercial development. It has always been a delicious and nutritious native American fruit, but history, cultural prejudices, and difficulty in storing and shipping have relegated it to the obscure backwoods of American cuisine. However, several factors seem to be coming together to bring the pawpaw to the attention of the American public—at least, to the “foodie” segment of the public. These include recent improvements in available cultivars (with even better flavor and fewer seeds), production research at Kentucky State University, breeding programs both private and public, international interest, a renewed interest in America’s food system and diet, and a nascent effort by growers and aficionados to publicize the virtues of the pawpaw.

Though the pawpaw’s only near relatives are tropical, and pawpaws look like mangos and taste like bananas, they are not tropical but are native to most of the eastern United States and even parts of Canada. The pawpaw grows best in areas with hot summers and cold winters (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 8). It is hardy and relatively pest-free, and its tolerance to shade makes it suitable for intercropping with certain other trees. In addition, the pawpaw has genetic variability that can be used to improve the plant.

A major research effort centered at Kentucky State University and involving a few other universities (including Cornell, Clemson, Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa State, and Oregon State) should contribute significantly to the commercial development of this crop (Pomper et al., 1999). These universities have established identical plots of pawpaws, which they hope will identify the best cultivars and best management techniques. They are breeding for the following desirable traits: yellow to orange flesh; fruit size 10 ounces or larger; seeds small and few; fruit of uniform shape and free of external blemishes; and mild, sweet flesh with no unpleasant aftertaste.

The KSU program has delivered results. In 2016, KSU-Benson™ joined Kentucky State’s 2010 release, KSU-Atwood™, from their pawpaw breeding program. With a flavor combining those of banana, pineapple, and mango, KSU-Atwood shows promise as a commercially available cultivar (Pomper et al., 2011).

‘Fayetteville’ pawpaw. Photo by Robyn Metzger, NCAT.


The pawpaw is native to most of the humid eastern United States. It is hardy to USDA Zone 5. Pawpaws thrive in moist, fertile, well-drained soils having a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. Although the pawpaw tolerates shade, it produces best in full sunlight, as long as it receives enough water and is protected from high winds. It is true that pawpaw trees grow readily in the forest, but fruiting is compromised in full, dense shade. Permaculture enthusiasts promote the idea of pawpaws under trees like black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), which cast sparse, dappled shade, but there is not yet research to evaluate this practice. Growers with commercial ambitions should probably choose to provide some shade during the first one or two growing seasons and later remove the shade apparatus when the tree seems well established.

Pawpaw trees will grow from 12 to 25 feet tall and should be spaced from eight to 15 feet apart.

Although pawpaws flower in the spring, they bloom after apples, peaches, and pears, so are less likely than those fruits to lose a crop to late frosts. Nevertheless, it is possible to lose a crop to frost, so commercial plantings should probably avoid low-lying areas that can become “frost pockets.”

According to Dr. Kirk Pomper of Kentucky State University, weed control around trees, with straw or woodchip mulch, is important to increase tree survival rates. Pomper notes that voles that might be attracted to these mulches do not damage pawpaw trees as they would apple trees.

Planting: Seedlings vs. Grafted Trees

There are a number of cultivars that produce superior fruit. An unbiased description of most of these cultivars is available at Kentucky State University’s pawpaw website: reports.htm. Grafted trees of these named cultivars can be relatively expensive—up to $35 for a single potted tree; wholesale quantities would presumably cost less per tree—so prospective growers might be tempted to plant ungrafted seedlings. Although seedlings are much cheaper than grafted trees, there is enough genetic variability in the pawpaw that commercial-scale growers will be taking a significant gamble if they plant ungrafted seedlings, and they will not know the outcome of their bet for around five to seven years because it can take that long for seedlings to begin bearing (grafted trees usually start bearing in three to four years).

If you live in an area where pawpaws grow wild, you might be tempted to transplant from the wild, but wild pawpaws have long taproots, which are very easily damaged. Often, pawpaw trees in wild patches are rootsuckers from a single original tree. With poorly developed root systems per individual shoot, these rootsuckers do not transplant well. Even nursery-grown pawpaws can be difficult to transplant. They have fleshy, brittle roots with very few fi ne root hairs, which inevitably get damaged when transplanting. Experimentation has shown that, to be successful, transplantation should be done in the spring, at the time when new growth commences or soon after. If many roots are lost, it may be desirable to prune the top to bring it into balance with the remaining roots.


Separate the seeds from the fruit and store the seeds in a plastic bag with moist (not wet) peat moss or some similar medium. Never allow the seed to dry out or freeze, as either will kill the seed. The bagged seed should be held under refrigeration for three to four months to satisfy the seed’s need for a cold period. Sow seed the following spring into pots or field about an inch deep. Most pawpaw nurserymen employ deep pots to allow for important tap root development (see photo above).

Compared to apples and pears, “trueness to seed parent” is high for pawpaw; that is, seedling plants are somewhat likely to resemble their female parent. In other words, seed from high-quality fruit has a moderate chance (around 50%) of producing plants that also produce high-quality (but not necessarily identical) fruit. Nevertheless, only vegetative propagation will produce trees that can be relied upon to produce the highest-quality fruit.

Vegetative propagation for pawpaws is a matter of budding or grafting. Micropropagation by tissue culture to produce hundreds or thousands of clones at a time remains a desired, but stubbornly elusive, goal for pawpaw researchers, though progress is being made (Stanica, 2016). Budding (chip only; “T” budding has proven ineffective) or grafting should be done using dormant scionwood and actively growing seedling rootstock. Dormant scionwood should be collected in mid- to late winter and held in plastic bags under refrigeration until the seedling rootstocks are showing growth and the ambient temperatures are consistently warm. Kentucky State University recommends early June for budding and grafting, the important variable here probably being temperature: it should be consistently warm to allow for adequate callus growth and subsequent knitting together of tissues from the rootstock and the scion/bud.

Young pawpaw under temporary shade provided by tomato cage and window screen. Photo by Guy K. Ames, NCAT.


The slightly foul-smelling pawpaw flowers are fly and beetle-pollinated, and that may be one of the reasons that fruit set is so inconsistent in the wild. An old recommendation to hang road kill in your trees to attract fly pollinators (Black, 2009) might actually be helpful if you have only a few trees, but Sheri Crabtree at Kentucky State University says that hand pollination is probably more effective… and less objectionable. She also offered that at Kentucky State’s relatively large research orchards, pollination has not been a major issue, probably because the presence of so many trees is simply that much more attractive to pollinators (2016). More detail about hand pollination of pawpaw is available at a Virginia Cooperative Extension Web page (Bratsch, 2009).

Pests and Diseases

Pawpaws have very few pest problems. There are a few lepidopteran pests (caterpillars), the principal one being the pawpaw peduncle borer. The peduncle borer (Talponia plummeriana) burrows into the pawpaw flower and causes it to drop. Usually, however, so little damage is done that this is not considered a serious problem.

The asimina webworm, Omphalocera munroei, is a moth of the Pyralidae family. Larvae web, roll, and fold leaves as they feed. Feeding also can extend to twigs and stems, and occasionally a stem can be girdled from feeding. It can be found throughout the range of the pawpaw but seems to be a nuisance only sporadically, according to Sheri Crabtree of Kentucky State. Some growers in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Maryland have reported problems with the asimina webworm (Crabtree, 2016). The author has a consistent year-to-year problem with the webworm in his Arkansas planting, requiring manual removal of the webs and larvae and/or sprays of Bacillus thuringiensis or spinosad-containing pesticides.

Other reported pests include earwigs, slugs, San Jose scale, and tent caterpillars. To discourage earwigs and slugs, Ray Jones, a California pawpaw grower, ties a three-inch band of aluminum foil around each trunk and paints the middle two inches of the foil with Tanglefoot® (Pyle, 1992). San Jose scale can be controlled with dormant oils. Tent caterpillars can be physically removed from the tree by cutting out the “tent” or the branches holding the tent.

Phyllosticta and flyspeck or greasy blotch (Zygophiala jamaicensis) can be problems of pawpaw. This occurs only during periods of high humidity and frequent rainfall. Dense foliage and lack of proper ventilation contribute to this condition, so proper spacing and pruning can reduce it. Phyllosticta can infect the leaves and the surface of the fruit; it can also cause the fruit to crack when it expands, reducing quality and storability.

There appears to be some variation in susceptibility among varieties, but nothing comprehensive has yet been published in this regard.

Harvest and Postharvest Handling

Pawpaws ripen very quickly and bruise easily, which limits shipping time. Though the fruit of some cultivars will exhibit a slight color shift from green to yellow, Dr. Pomper’s research shows that skin color is a poor indicator of ripeness. Pomper claims that the best indicators are a slight softness when gently squeezed and the ease with which the fruit releases from its stem when gently pulled. Since one of the very best indicators of ripeness is that the fruit has fallen from the tree, and because the fruit is easily bruised, some growers have taken to piling a few feet of straw or hay under the trees to cushion the fall of those perfectly ripe fruit (Moore, 2015). Chris Chmiel of Integration Acres has planted ground ivy under his trees for the same reason (Moore, 2015).

Similarly, because of its tenderness and susceptibility to bruising, pickers will want to pick into something that will cushion and protect the fruit. Pawpaws in harvest totes or boxes should not be stacked more than two deep.

Fruits picked just before they are fully ripe, but after they have begun to soften, will ripen indoors at room temperature or slowly in a refrigerator. Already-ripe fruit will last only two to four days at room temperature, but refrigerated fruit will last up to three weeks. Research is being conducted to determine the effectiveness of using modified atmosphere shipping and ethylene-control sachets to extend shelf life (Galli, 2007).

Pawpaws are not suited for certain value-added products like jams and jellies. Heating pawpaws changes their flavor, so pawpaws would be best used in foods such as ice cream. Recipes using pawpaws are available from several sources, including the Kentucky State University website

Iowa State scientists are researching mechanical pulp extraction and freezing techniques. Because cooking destroys important flavor components, and shelf-life of fresh pawpaws is so limited, such research could be crucial to the commercialization of the pawpaw (O’Malley, 2010).

Dennis Fulbright of Michigan State University has adapted an Italian machine for processing chestnuts to separate pawpaw seed from pulp (Moore, 2015). However, the fruit still has to be skinned by hand.

A chip-budded pawpaw will have a “dog leg” where the bud was inserted. In two to three years, this feature will disappear and it will be diffi cult to tell where the bud or graft union was. Photo by Guy K. Ames, NCAT.


Given the fragility and short shelf-life of the fruit, the uncertain status of processing pawpaw pulp, as well as the simple novelty of the fruit itself, the enterprising pawpaw marketer should have a good sales plan before hitting stores, restaurants, or farmers markets. Careful handling, of course, is a must because the fruit is so easily bruised. There are a few commercial-scale growers in Kentucky and Ohio leading the way, including Chris Chmiel, who successfully processes and sells thousands of pounds of frozen pulp every year (2016).

In general, the pawpaw direct-marketer would be well-advised to have some printed material (posters or hand-outs) to acquaint the consumer with the fruit and its uses. If you have a cultivar that tastes like banana or mango or custard, tout that in a very visible way because most consumers won’t have any idea what a good pawpaw tastes like. Because it is so nutritious, nutrition information might be a good sales tool and can make good poster or blackboard text, as long as you don’t overwhelm the reader with too much (shoppers are at stores or farmers markets to shop, not read; emphasize the high points: one of the highest protein contents of any fruit; high in potassium, vitamin C, riboflavin). Consult www.pawpaw. Information for more detailed nutrition information. Lastly, recipes for the buyer to take home can be another inducement for the consumer to make that first purchase of a new food. Go to for recipes.

The North American Pawpaw Growers Association ( (spun off from the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association) has many members around the country. This organization can also help individuals in pawpaw marketing efforts.

Plant Extracts as Anti-carcinogens and Insecticides

Dr. Jerry McLaughlin of Purdue University, now retired, found that pawpaw is a source of phytochemicals called acetogenins with powerful anti-carcinogenic properties (Moore, 2015). An herbal extract made from pawpaw is on the market. For more information on pawpaw as an anticarcinogen go to

Dr. McLaughlin also isolated a botanical insecticide, asimicin, from pawpaw twigs and bark (Anon., 1999); however, without financial backing to shepherd it through the regulatory process, it is unlikely to be on the market anytime soon (Bratsch, 2009).


Pawpaws may be a viable enterprise for small-scale farmers who can develop a local clientele. However, the amount of time that must be invested before the first fruit crop (four years or longer) is a deterrent to many would-be producers. The ongoing university research should answer many questions regarding cultivars, culture, and processing/marketing.

Anon. 1999. Pawpaw those pests. Organic Gardening. October. p. 16.

Black, Craig Summers. 2009. America’s forgotten fruit. The Christian Science Monitor. February 4.

Bratsch, Anthony. 2009. Specialty Crop Profile: Pawpaw. Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Chmiel, Chris. Integration Acres. 2016. Personal communication with author.

Crabtree, Sheri. Kentucky State University. 2016. Personal communication with author.

Galli, F., D.D. Archbold, and K. Pomper. 2007. Pawpaw: An Old Fruit for New Needs. Acta Horticulturae. Vol. 744.
p. 641-666.

Moore, Andrew. 2015. Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River
Junction, VT.

O’Malley, Patrick. 2010. Pawpaws for the Upper Midwest.

Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association Newsletter. 2009. Marketing pawpaws. Spring. p. 1.

Pomper, Kirk W., Sheri B. Crabtree, and Jeremiah D. Lowe. 2011. Th e North American Pawpaw Variety: ‘KSU
AtwoodTM’. Journal of the American Pomological Society. Vol. 65, No. 4. p. 218-221.

Pomper, K.W., D.R. Layne, and R.N. Peterson. 1999. The pawpaw regional variety trial, p. 353-357. In: J. Janick (ed). Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

Pyle, Katherine. 1992. Picking up pawpaws…and growing them, too. California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. December. p. 24–25, 35–36.

Stanica, Florin. 2016. Pawpaw in vitro propagation. In: Proceedings of the Fourth International Pawpaw Conference,
Frankfort, KY.’s%20of%20Powerpoints/Zuccherelli%20G.%20&%20Stanica%20

Further Resources
Online Resources
Kentucky State University’s Pawpaw Project
147 Atwood Research Facility
Kentucky State University
Frankfort, KY 40601-2355
Provides information on pawpaw research, guide to growing pawpaws, cultivars, suppliers, PawPaw Foundation, and links to other pawpaw websites.

Purdue University’s facts sheet on pawpaws
Includes production information and suppliers.

Virginia Cooperative Extension

Ohio Pawpaw Growers’ Association

North American Pawpaw Growers’ Association
The North American Pawpaw Growers’ Association is a spin-off from the Ohio Pawpaw Growers’ Association and is meant to accommodate the increasing national and international interest in pawpaws. It also maintains a Facebook page.

Plant Sources
Note: These listings are provided for information only. NCAT does not endorse any particular supplier.

Blossom Nursery
Mark and Kathleen Blossom
216 CR 326
Eureka Springs, AR 72632
Seedlings, seed. Container and bareroot (quart or gallon, 8-inch to 18-inch).

England’s Orchard and Nursery
2338 Highway 2004
McKee, KY 40447-9616
Cultivars: Davis, Overleese, Rebecca’s Gold, Halvin’s Side-winder, Summer Delight, and others, including seedlings.

Forrest Keeling Nursery
88 Forrest Keeling Lane
Elsberry, MO 63343
Cultivars: Peterson pawpaws, Mango, NC-1, Overleese, PA-Golden, Sunflower, and more.

Hidden Springs Nursery
170 Hidden Springs Lane
Cookeville, TN 38501
Cultivars: KSU Atwood, Mango, NC-1, Mitchell, Overleese, Wells, and more.

Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery
John & Lisa Brittain
797 Port Wooden Road
Upton, KY 42784
Cultivars: KSU-AtwoodTM, Allegheny, Potomac, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Susquehanna, Wabash, Davis,
Greenriver Belle, IXL, Mitchell, NC-1, Overleese, PA Golden, Prolifi c, SAA-Zimmerman, Sue, Sunfl ower, Taylor,
Wells. Bareroot (1-foot to 6-foot)

One Green World
P.O. Box 881
Mulino, OR 97042
Phone: 877-353-4028
Cultivars: KSU-AtwoodTM, Davis, Mango, Mitchell, NC-1, Overleese, PA Golden, Prolifi c, Sunfl ower, Sweet Alice,
Taylor, Taytwo, Wells, Wilson, seedlings.

by Steve Gabriel

In early October this past year, a devoted group of foresters, farmers, extension educations, students, and others gathered at the USDA Plant Materials Center in Big Flats, NY to discuss a common, yet underappreciated tree that has great potential for farms across the Northeast: Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).

This tree, which has often been given a bad name for it’s opportunistic rapid growth and robust thorns, is said to be native originally to the Appalachian Mountain range, though it has become naturalized throughout the United States, southern Canada, and even parts of Europe and Asia. The species is incredibly adaptive, growing in many elevations, microclimates, and soil types.

While some have named it an “invasive” tree given its rapid growth and willingness to spread by seed and root suckering, others see these characteristics as advantageous, if only populations are properly managed to harness these qualities. Make no mistake, locust is not a tree to plant and walk away from. It is best when incorporated into managed activities on the farm, of which there are a remarkable array of options and benefits, including:

  • Because it fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere, the trees grow incredibly fast (3 – 4 feet in a season) and can quickly become windbreaks, shelterbelts, and shade and shelter for animals in silvopasture grazing systems.
  • The nutritional value of the leaves is similar to alfalfa, making it a valuable feed for ruminant livestock. Some sources claim excessive consumption can lead to toxicity, but many farmers have found their animals naturally limit their intake. (horses excepted)
  • The tree has been used to support nutrition in other crops, from grains to other trees. Research has shown increases in nitrogen in barley grain crops interplanted with locust, and black walnuts interplanted with locust as “nurse” trees were shown to rapidly increase their growth.
  • The flowers are important sources of food for honeybees. In Hungary, Black Locust is the basis of commercial honey production.
  • The high-density wood is the most rot resistant wood we can grow in our climate, making it an ideal material for fenceposts, hope poles, outdoor furniture, decks, and other projects that require weatherproof materials.
  • It’s BTU rating is among the highest, making it an excellent firewood in both heat value and coaling ability. At our last house, we actually ruined a woodstove by burning too much locust, which gets extremely hot.

If anything, Black locust is almost too good at what is does. All theses attributes have resulted in an extraordinarily high demand; both sellers of locust poles and lumber, as well as those in the nursery trade at the meeting reported not even coming close to meeting the demand for their products. There is a lot of room in the market for more farmers to grow, harvest, and sell black locust products in many parts of the region.

The challenge? Some states prohibit importing, selling, or trading Black Locust, including Massachusetts and it is restricted in Minnesota, Michigan, and New York. This is not necessarily a complete list – check with your state regulators before deciding how to proceed. Each state has it’s own specific regulations.

In New York, a regulated plant cannot be knowingly introduced into a location where it isn’t already present. It’s hard to say if there is such a place in New York, and likely not in any location where farming traditionally occurred, since the tree has a long history of value to both Native Americans and colonizer settler farmers around the state. In any case, in New York the trees can be purchased, sold, propagated and transported legally. Nursery’s are required to attached a disclaimed to any material they sell.

Assuming you are clear to work with Black Locust, it’s important to consider the genetic stock you source trees from, especially if your goal is to grow straight poles or trees that can be milled for lumber. Locust is incredibly crooked in its “natural” form, and so seed selection, and sometimes pruning, is a critical factor for success. Ironically, the Hungarians identified the awesomeness of Black locust a long time ago (1700s), deciding to intentionally import seeds and engage in an intensive breeding program. As a result, some of the best stock today comes from Eastern Europe, and nearly 20% of the forests in Hungary are comprised of Black Locust.

Propagation of new trees is best achieved by either seed, or root cuttings. Of course, seed will express variety in the resulting genetic profile, whereas root cuttings will be clones of the parent tree. To grow from seed, the thick coat must first be broken, most often by soaking in a pot of boiling water for 12 – 24 hours. Root cuttings can be taken by finding a good flare in the tree, and digging up roots at least thumb thickness. Roots are cut into 2” sections and planted in a potting mix or prepared seed bed.

While the tree is suitable for a wide range of sites, avoid extremely heavy clay and soils with excessive water moisture (standing water). Soil prep can be minimal, as the trees can often compete and overtake other competitors quite easily. Protection from deer or other potential pests is critical during the establishment period, usually the first one to three years.

Black locust has just a few pests of concern, and a little observation and vigilance goes a long way. The health and vigor of the trees are important defenses against devastation, as research has shown that good growing conditions are more important than genetic resistance.

The most common pest is the Locust borer (Megacyllene robiniae) which most often attacks living, stressed trees, causing extensive damage to the quality of the wood. Identifying and removing infected trees can go a long way. It’s critical get to know the lifecycle of the pest. The other is main pest is the leaf miner (Odontota dorsalis), which attacks the tree in spring, turning the leaves brown by mid-summer or early fall. Overall tree growth can be impacted, but usually not seriously.

One of the most exciting conversations at the meeting was around the good economics for Black Locust, which can be summarized as demand far outstripping the supply. A recent blossoming of interest in natural and sustainable materials for garden and fence posts, coupled with a boom in the hop production industry in the Northeast mean that black locust polewood (which requires only harvesting and cutting to length) can alone be a valuable product from the farm woodlot. Larger, straight trees can also be milled and either sold as lumber or made into a wide range of products include outdoor furniture and offered at a premium price. Prices for these products range from $1 – $3 per linear foot for whole posts, and from $1.50 – $3.50/board foot for milled lumber, which is far above the prices for most conventional hardwood lumber.

Personally, at our farm, Black locust has found a nice in our pastures, where it quickly establishes itself and is able to be integrated with our sheep grazing paddocks in under 5 years. The sheep initially prune the lower limbs for feed, and we prune thicker branches to use for tree stakes, to plant more trees! We plant very close together (3 – 4 feet apart) so that over time, we can leave some trees as the overstory, while coppicing (cutting to the ground) and pollarding (cutting above browse height) the less straight ones to provide longer-term fodder reserves for the sheep. Eventually we can harvest some posts and poles, as well.

With all its functions and uses in the farm landscape, it’s a wonder more people aren’t planting these trees, and managing ones they already have. The key take away is; if you plant it, manage it. This wonderful tree has many benefits to harvest, but left along could become a problem plant on the farm.

Sources for Trees and Seeds:
Twisted Tree Farm, NY:
Edible Acres, NY:
Sheffield’s Seeds, NY:
Cold Stream Farm, MI:
Lawyer Nursery, OR:

More information and slides from the workshop can be found at:

This article is available for download at Wellspring Forest Farm & School’s website:

Vegetable Specialist Maire Ullrich connects New York State growers with Feeding America food banks to bring NYS produce to Florida.

by R.J. Anderson

Like many Americans, Hudson Valley apple farmer Steve Pennings watched the devastation of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria this September and wanted to do something to help.

Eric Hansen, right, owner of Hansen Farms in Stanley, New York, speaks with Jim Germain, from Feeding America.

“At the same time, I looked around my orchard and saw we were having an exceptional fall – trees popping at the seams with robust fruit,” Pennings said. “In talking with my wife and kids, we decided we had to find a way to share our good fortune with those in need – we just weren’t sure how to do it. That’s when I gave Maire a call.”

For over a quarter century, Cornell Cooperative Extension vegetable specialist Maire Ullrich has worked with Orange County growers like Pennings on various agricultural issues. “When she heard my idea, Maire sprang into action and took it from there,” he said. “She knew just what to do.”

Ullrich, a member of CCE’s Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Team, contacted Feeding America, a nonprofit that operates more than 200 food banks in the United States and Puerto Rico, about putting together a shipment of fruits and vegetables to be trucked to Florida or Texas.

“Before I even opened my mouth to commit to pursuing Steve’s idea, I knew Feeding America could handle the logistics, which would be the biggest challenge,” said Ullrich. “Their reply was, ‘Let’s do it. You line up the load – hard crops that could last a week at room temperature such as apples, potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots and others – and we’ll send a truck to pick it up.’”

Within minutes, Ullrich was back on the phone with Pennings, who was confident neighboring farms would join him in donating apples to the cause. Ullrich, in turn, said she would connect with the area’s vegetable farmers to fill out the tractor-trailer load with additional produce.

Eric Hansen, owner of Hansen Farms in Stanley, New York, holds produce that will be shipped to Florida through Feeding America.

About a week later, the Feeding America truck departed the Hudson Valley for central Florida with 20 pallets of fresh fruits and vegetables – more than 15 tons of food. “The truck left on a Friday, and the following Monday I heard from Feeding America that the load was already distributed,” said Ullrich. “And the food bank in Florida said they were really pleased with the variety and the quality of what we sent.”

Meanwhile, Ullrich was lining up more produce shipments from other fertile growing regions in the state. Two weeks after the Hudson Valley load, a shipment left Hansen Farms in the Finger Lakes packed with apples and cabbage bound for Florida. Another departed western New York in November.

In coordinating the shipments in central and western New York, Ullrich networked with her counterparts from CCE’s Cornell Vegetable Program and Lake Ontario Fruit Program. “It made sense to put loads together in those areas, because like here in the Hudson Valley, those regions consist of large farms that do a lot of transportation, know all of their neighbors and are well-positioned to host shipments in their warehouses. It does take some work on their end – especially during a hectic harvest season – but it’s not crazy difficult for them to manage it.”

Pennings said he’s not surprised that it didn’t take any arm twisting to get his fellow growers on board, and he said he’s honored to be part of such a big-hearted network. He added: “This is also a perfect example of why we have Cornell Cooperative Extension services all around the state and people like Maire working on our behalf. She took what was a small idea and really connected the dots to make it a big success.”

R.J. Anderson is a writer/communications specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Visionary collaborations are creating new varieties to thrive in the Finger Lakes — which ones will become heirlooms for future generations?

by Petra Page-Mann

Although they materialize everyday before our eyes, new books are written by people who spend countless hours and often years writing them.

The plants that feed us daily also are created by people who spend countless hours, years and sometimes decades to bring them to fruition.

How is a new variety made?

When does it become an ‘heirloom’?

Each variety has a unique story.

We are fortunate, here in the Finger Lakes, to have Cornell plant breeders, an organic seed company, organic farmers and a broadly engaged eaters to inform and inspire one another, creating new varieties for all generations to enjoy.

Here are the stories of three such varieties.

Each heirloom begins as a new variety, like a book no one has read. ‘August Ambrosia’ is a new watermelon developed by Cornell and Fruition Seeds that will likely become an heirloom for future generations.

August Ambrosia Watermelon

Eating fresh watermelon from the garden every day in August is a lot to ask here in the Northeast since most varieties are bred for the long, hot summers of California. Which is why Fruition Seeds, an organic seed company in the Finger Lakes collaborated with Michael Mazourek of Cornell University to develop a new variety, ‘August Ambrosia’, adapted specifically for our short seasons. August Ambrosia’s perfectly petite 4- to 6-pound oblong fruits ripen abundantly throughout August even in short, cool summers.  With sweet flesh, thin rind & small seeds, August Ambrosia is truly a watermelon worth your time & precious garden space. Despite abundant rain, moderate temperatures and resulting impressive disease pressure in 2017, August Ambrosia was indeed delicious every day in August.

First, meet Dr. Michael Mazourek of Cornell, a public plant breeder whose vision is to serve everyone, not business as usual. (Honeynut squash and Habanada pepper are two of his extraordinary varieties that have received national attention and inspired countless chefs, growers and eaters.) We are immensely fortunate to have Michael visioning new vegetable varieties here in the Northeast.

Michael is a classical plant breeder. Think of it this way: Golden Doodle (Golden Retriever + Poodle) dogs are a great example of classical animal breeding.  Nothing genetically modified in a laboratory, simply two good things cross as they could even without human management. So Michael made the initial cross of two watermelons, each with certain traits we were all hoping might combine just so.

Here’s the thing: Golden Doodles are consistent because the parent dogs are genetically uniform. Their true vegetative comparisons are F1 Hybrids (F1 stands for the ‘first filial generation’), which are similarly genetically uniform. Developing a new variety in the way Michael did creates exactly the opposite, the cross unleashing a brilliant (and often blinding) spectrum of diversity. He made, approximately, a watermelon mutt. Thousands of them.

So Michael made the initial watermelon cross and then selected two generations of watermelon ‘mutts’ (called ‘lines’ in plant breeding) before sharing 16 distinct lines of seed with Fruition Seeds. Fruition is an organic seed company in the Finger Lakes focused on flavor and regional adaptation, improving heirlooms as well as developing new ones, like August Ambrosia.

What did those 16 lines look like and taste like? Not only were not they 16 distinct lines, they were impressively diverse even within each line. Here is the tip of watermelon’s ice burg of genetic diversity:

-fruit that is red, yellow, pink, white or marbled different colors
-fruit that is crisp, crunchy
-fruit that is sweet, bland, watermelon-y, fragrant, not fragrant
-fruit that matures early, mid-season or late
-fruit that is round or oblong
-inner-rind that is thick or thin
-outer-rind that is dark green, light green, black-green or silver; solid, striped, speckled or lattice coloration
-seeds that are small, large, black, brown, white, crunchy, chewy or like stones
-plants that have 1 fruit or 5

Brand new ‘Brandywise’ is the best of both worlds, combining the flavor of heirloom tomato ‘Brandywine’ with Cornell’s tomato resistant to Late Blight and Septoria tolerant of Early Blight.

If you love watermelon and endless surprise: what fun.  If you’re don’t care for finding needles in haystacks: what horror.  For Fruition Seeds, this was a dream come true.

There are many ways to approach variety development at this stage. Fruition Seeds took the often longer but less complicated approach of simply saving seed from select fruit without making any particular crosses. Can you imagine, from all the variables in the list above, finding the plant that expresses all the characteristics you want in your watermelon?

Fruition Seeds ate a lot of watermelon.

And every season Fruition hosted a farm party to learn from the hundreds of what they like, don’t like and why. As well as to enjoy tons (literally) of watermelon with everyone.

Four seasons later, August Ambrosia is a stable expression of the petite, sweet and prolific oblong watermelon we were all dreaming of.

Brandywise & Summer Sweetheart Tomato

Whether you hope to harvest 10 or 10,000 tomatoes, diseases like Late Blight, Early Blight and Septoria Leaf Spot are affecting your abundance every season here in the Northeast. Though many cultural practices can reduce spread of disease (like growing under plastic and watering soil rather than leaves), sowing seeds with natural genetic resistance to these diseases is perhaps the single greatest thing you can do to increase your success, whether you are an organic or conventional grower.

Martha Mutschler-Chu develops such tomatoes at Cornell University.

In 2013 Iron Lady became the first F1 hybrid variety (think Golden Doodle) with ‘triple resistance:’ actual resistance to Late Blight, Septoria Leaf Spot and tolerance of Early Blight. Though tasting better than a standard grocery store tomato in January, the lack of richness and depth of flavor left many growers still wanting better options.

In response, Martha crossed one of her triple-resistant tomato lines with the quintessential heirloom tomato ‘Brandywine’ to see how well triple resistance and flavor would pair in the resulting F1 Hybrid.

They did.

In 2018, the world can now enjoy ‘Brandywise,’ an indeterminate, large red slicer with the best of both worlds: succulent flavor and resistance to Late Blight and Septoria as well as Early Blight tolerance.

Fruition Seeds asked to play with one of Martha’s triple-resistant lines, hoping to find another cross whose fruit that produced another disease resistant hybrid and was uniquely delicious. Fruition fell in love with a cross between Martha’s line and Will Bonsall’s Gardener’s Sweetheart, a heart-shaped red cherry tomato that is exceptionally sweet and creamy. ‘Summer Sweetheart’ is a saladette tomato with handsome ribs ideal for salads, roasting and stuffing with mozzarella.

New Heirlooms

How does a variety become an heirloom?

Think of heirloom vegetables as books and as history.  Books don’t just write themselves. History didn’t just happen, it is happening. Constantly.  For the last 10,000 years humans have been domesticating wild plants and developing ever new varieties of vegetables.

‘Summer Sweetheart’ is a new variety developed here in the Finger Lakes, pairing flavor with strong disease resistance — a unique combination in 2018.

Each heirloom begins as a new variety, developed by plant breeders and shared with the world, like a book no one has read. Even Brandywine tomato, one of the most famous heirlooms of all time, started out as a new variety no one had ever heard of. As people grow it season after season, as its ‘pages’ became ‘dog-eared,’ as word and seeds spread of Brandywine, it became part of it’s place and people.  Heirloom varieties, technically speaking, are those whose saved seeds grow true to type and have been grown for 50 years or more.  They often have a particular cultural significance to their place of origin, as well.

By the technical definition, August Ambrosia watermelon will be a Finger Lakes heirloom in 49 years, year 2067, as it is grown and loved as well as seeds saved and shared.  So many people helped it come into existence and we all play a role in it becoming a beloved heirloom for all generations to come.

Also by definition, Brandywise and Summer Sweetheart tomatoes will never be known as heirlooms, no matter how many generations they’re grown and how well their loved because, as F1 Hybrids, their seeds can be saved but will not grow true to type.

They both play critical roles as we learn to feed ourselves and each other in our constantly changing world.

As the climate changes, it is increasingly vital that we think new thoughts, write new books and develop new vegetable varieties. Simply by the act of eating every day you are a part of these shifts, whether or not you sow a single seed in your life. The visionary collaborations and emerging new varieties here in the Finger Lakes offer hope that we are capable of creating heirloom-worthy foods and stories for future generations.

Petra Page-Mann co-founded Fruition Seeds in 2012, growing organic, regionally adapted seeds to make organic gardening easier and more abundant in the Northeast. Find her 350+ varieties online at and write anytime,

Baskets to Pallets at the 2018 NOFA-NY Winter Conference – Saratoga Springs, NY

January 21, 2018, 8:00-9:15am

Looking to diversify sales? Food hubs, groceries, restaurants and cooperatives are seeking your products, but these ‘intermediated’ channels require different marketing strategies. This workshop will include discussion and activities to prepare direct-marketing farmers to start building successful sales relationships with wholesale buyers.

This year’s conference theme —Healthy People, Healthy Planet­ — recognizes the intersection of health and agriculture. It will celebrate the production of nutritious food in an organic system that maintains and encourages the well-being of the earth and all inhabitants.

See the conference brochure for a full listing of workshops and events. To register for the conference, click here.

Tug Hill Vineyards

Baskets to Pallets Two Day Training
Tug Hill Vineyards, Lowville, NY

January 29 & January 30, 10:00am – 4:00pm

The ‘Baskets to Pallets’ course is designed for farmers of all enterprises and will cover building relationships with buyers, customer management and record keeping, pricing, grading and packaging, uniformity and consistency, and food safety, among many other topics!  This fun course includes plenty of hands-on activities and opportunities for peer learning and small group discussion.  The course includes one break-out session for livestock and produce farmers. Additionally, the training includes an end-of-day session to start crop-planning for selling to the NNY Food Hub, based out of Jefferson county CCE, during the 2018 growing season.

The training cost is $35.00, which enables 2 people per farm to attend and includes breakfast refreshments and a delicious locally sourced lunch each day. Space is limited to 40 participants and early registration is encouraged. Lodging is available at Ridge View Lodge at a discounted rate of $80-90 per night.  Reserve by January 15th!

The ‘Baskets to Pallets’ course is co-hosted by the Cornell Small Farms Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Lewis County and funded via Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).


Training Agenda

DAY 1: Monday, January 29th

9:00am – 10:00am Arrival. Enjoy breakfast refreshments
10:00am – 10:15am Overview of the Training | Introductions Violet Stone, Cathy Moore and Melissa Spence
10:15am – 10:30am Consumer Trends and the Demand for Local Violet Stone
10:30am – 11:00am Market Channel Assessment Lindsey Pashow
11:00am – 11:30am Building Relationships with Buyers Violet Stone
11:30am – 12:00pm Perfecting the Pitch and Cold Calling Violet Stone
Noon – 1:00pm  Lunch & Socializing
1:00pm – 1:30pm  Inform Your Buyers, Build Your Brand Lindsey Pashow
1:30pm – 2:30pm  Buyer Q&A Buyer Panel TBA
2:30pm – 3:30pm The Ingredients of Good Marketing | Sell Sheets Violet Stone
3:30pm – 4:00pm Crop Planning for the Food Hub Meeting: for farmers interested
in selling to the Food Hub
Cathy Moore

DAY 2: Tuesday, January 30th

9:00am – 10:00am Arrival. Enjoy breakfast refreshments
10:00am – 10:15am Reflecting on Day 1 and Overview of Day 2 Violet Stone
10: 15am – 10:45am Grading Liz Higgins
10:45am – Noon Uniformity, Consistency and Scheduling
BREAK OUT SESSION for Produce and Livestock
Crystal Stewart and Betsy Hodge
Noon – 1:00pm Lunch & Socializing
1:00 – 2:00pm Farmer Stories Farmer Panel TBA
2:00pm – 2:30pm Labeling Liz Higgins
2:30pm – 3:00pm Packaging Liz Higgins
3:00pm – 3:15pm Hands On Pallet Stacking Violet Stone
3:15pm – 3:45pm Keeping Production Records & Food Safety Basics Crystal Stewart
3:45pm – 4:00pm Evaluation Violet Stone


Training Instructors

Violet Stone

Violet launched the Baskets to Pallets Project in 2014 in an effort to prepare direct-marketing farmers to successfully connect with new scale-appropriate markets.  Prior to joining the Cornell Small Farms staff  in 2007, Violet worked as a farmers market manager, local foods educator and farm direct-marketing consultant. She has a Certificate in Agroecology from the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.  She is also the  New York NESARE (Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education State Coordinator.

Cathy Moore
Catherine Moore is the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Fort Drum Issue Leader at Jefferson County Cornell Cooperative Extension.  Cathy is the coordinator of the NNY Food Hub, a regional initiative to help local producers expand their production and become more competitive in the marketplace. The hub serves an area that includes Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, and St. Lawrence counties.

Liz Higgins

As a CCE Business Management Specialist, Liz provides research and extension support to growers in ENY in farm business management, business planning and risk management and agricultural economics. She as experience as the director of the Center for Rural Development at Louisiana Tech University and most recently worked with CCE in both Ulster and Sullivan Counties as a program leader in Nutrition and Consumer Programs.

Crystal Stewart

Crystal works as an extension vegetable specialist for CCE, focusing on organic horticulture, small and beginning farmers assistance, and basic farm business management. She worked as Regional Extension Educator with the SDSU Cooperative Extension providing horticulture support, and originally joined CCE as the horticulture and agriculture educator in Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Betsy Hodge

Betsy is Regional Livestock Educator for CCE’s NNY Regional Ag Team and is also a local educator for St. Lawrence County. In this dual role, Betsy leads the NNY Livestock Team, a group of Extension Educators from across Northern New York. Betsy is a member of  Farm Bureau and the Empire Sheep Producers Association as well as a member of several advisory boards.

Lindsey Pashow

Lindsey is an Agriculture Business Development and Marketing Specialist for CCE’s Harvest NY Team that is affiliated with the Northern NY Regional Agriculture Program. She serves Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties. She has previously worked as a horticulture field technician for CCE, and she owns Adirondack View Vineyard.



Your employees are your most valuable resource. Wages, salaries, and contract labor expenses represent more than 40 percent of the cost of production in labor intensive crops like fruits, vegetables, and nursery products. These four workshops will help you become better at managing your farm’s employees.

The Cornell Small Farms Program will provide scholarships for NYS Veterans to attend this program. To learn more about this opportunity, and determine if you are eligible for a scholarship, please contact Kat McCarthy at or 607-255-9911. Check out the Ag Labor Management flyer for more detailed information.

Workshop 1 – Marketing your farm as a great place to work
Do you have a lot of staff turnover? Do you want to improve your communication skills with your employees? This workshop is for you. Learn to create a work environment that attracts and retains quality employees. You will leave with an assessment of your current employee management strengths and weaknesses, and an outline of an employee handbook that will help you articulate your farm’s values to your employees.

Workshop 2 – What is my job? Hiring, training and evaluating employees effectively
Everyone wants to have employees who know what needs to be done without being told. But getting your employees to this point is the hard part. We will help you develop a process to move your employees to this point more quickly. You will develop clear job descriptions, learn techniques in hiring, and training new staff and using just in time feedback and performance appraisal to both correct problems and motivate your staff.

Workshop 3 – Keeping good staff when money is tight & managing conflict in the workplace
Although everyone likes to be paid, money is not the only, or even most important, motivator for staff retention and performance. This workshop will cover research on rewards and incentives in the workplace to learn tools to attract and retain staff and reduce staff turn-over. Workplace conflict can be very demotivating for everyone. We will discuss and role-play managing conflict on the farm, terminating employees and managing employee departures.

Workshop 4 – The compliance and safety workshop. Are you managing your risks as an employer?
This is the workshop that covers the nuts and bolts of risk management as an employer. This workshop will give you resources to help you comply with labor laws and regulations as well as mandated and recommended worker safety training. Representatives from the NYS DOL Ag Labor Program will be invited to present as well as NYCAMH. Participants will leave with an assessment of their farm’s exposure to risk from having employees and strategies for reducing that risk.

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