From pests to productivity, the UNH Cooperative Education Center and Info Line can answer your questions
Friday, March 1, 2013
Problems and the need for solutions are always cropping up in day-to-day life. Whether it’s a childhood dream of creating a new invention, or a (not uncommon) sudden loss of power that requires new ideas for living in the inclement weather of New Hampshire, people are always thinking, creating and problem-solving. Likewise, our local farmers are constantly faced with problems and looking for solutions regarding the weather, insects, efficient land use, increasing crop yield, and so on.
So, where does the farmer go to get help with these problems? Who knows which bug eats aphids and which one eats potatoes? Who can help find a way to improve soil to increase squash yield? The answer to these and many other questions is the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. (For the record, the ladybug eats aphids, but its evil cousin, the potato beetle, can strip all of the leaves off of a potato plant.)
Many readers may not be aware that New Hampshire’s Hillsborough County, among all of the nation’s counties, ranks 37th in the sales of agricultural products directly to consumers. Or that the world record for the “World’s Largest Pumpkin” was broken last year by an 1,844 pound pumpkin grown in Boscawen. These accomplishments owe much to the Extension, and how its programs support the higher and healthier yield of fruits, vegetables, and grains.
For homeowners and backyard gardeners, the UNH Cooperative Extension has developed The Education Center and Info Line where anyone with an agricultural or horticultural question can call. Staffed by master gardener volunteers, all kinds of questions can be answered, from identifying the Asian Longhorn Beetle, to ways to save a damaged tree in your front yard.
However, the Education Center is not the only resource that the Extension offers. If a commercial nursery or farm has a particularly unique or vexing problem, the Extension has other expert resources to bring to bear. And, if the problem is new, this sometimes creates an opportunity for research, and the ultimate development of new farming innovations.
For example, although a wide range of crops would grow in New Hampshire, from summer corn and watermelons to fall pumpkins and apples, one fruit that had been evading the farmers of New Hampshire was the peach. The cold flashes that occasionally interrupt spring’s progress in the state would kill the blossoms and the tree would not bear fruit, making it unsuitable for commercial farming. However, when Elwyn Meader, a University of New Hampshire professor heard of this problem, he began to conduct research in the hope of finding a hardier version that could withstand the problem of spring chills. Eventually, this research led to the creation of a cold-hardy variety called the Reliance Peach.
After the development of the Reliance Peach, the field specialists at the Extension brought it to the farmers and nursery managers in the state, providing them with a new source of revenue to maintain or expand their businesses. This also benefited local communities, providing not just another variety of locally-grown food, but also increasing local employment opportunities and helping to preserve open space.
Working with unique plant varieties by the Extension doesn’t end with just the Reliance Peach. Other examples include an investigation into which varieties of sweet potato are most adaptable to New Hampshire’s climate and soil, and the introduction of a special hybrid pumpkin, developed by professor Brent Loy, which can be grown for its many large and hull-less seeds rather than its shell.
Another major goal of the UNH Cooperative Extension in Hillsborough County is to use their expertise to help minimize the volume of pesticide sprays used on local farms, thereby reducing the impact on the environment from agriculture.
From time to time, you may see what appear to be white Chinese lanterns hanging in the fields of local farms. More than likely, these are insect traps set up by George Hamilton, a 24-year veteran and vital member of the Extension. After setting the traps, George, aided by seasonal employees such as Linda Kunhardt, counts and identifies the various insects that have been “harvested,” and keeps a record of how many “good” and “bad” insects are in the area. Using this data, local farms can identify which insects are attacking their crops, and are able to take actions that target only these insects specifically.
Good examples of the value of this approach include the Extension’s program throughout Hillsborough County to monitor an insect called the Corn Earworm, which specifically targets sweet corn and is a big problem for local growers. When raspberries were under attack in one fall season, Hamilton and the UNH Cooperative Extension came to the aid of local farms. They identified the source as the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a breed of fruit fly from Asia that attacks raspberry and other soft-skinned fruits when at their ripest. Once the specific pest was identified, measures were put into place that saved a significant portion of the raspberry crop that season.
So, whether it’s a question regarding how to grow a tomato, or if you want to develop the most successful method for growing the largest pumpkin in the state, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension is the go-to place for all your questions on insects, diseases, and everything agriculture!
The UNH Cooperative Education Center and Info Line is open from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. You can call them at 1-877-398-4769 or email your question to email@example.com. Or, if you don’t have a question at the moment, be sure to check out their website at
extension.unh.edu for more information, news, and events.
And, to enjoy the benefits of the locally-grown food made possible in part by the support of the Extension, readers may want to try the following recipe.
and Sausage Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound sausage (smoked anduille or linguica), sliced into ½ inch pieces
1 cup onion, finely chopped
7-8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 28-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
½ tsp red pepper flakes5 cups of kale (about ½ large bunch, stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces)
2 large red potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
10 cups low-salt chicken or beef stock
½ cup flat leafed parsley, chopped
Makes 10-12 cups
Heat a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat with olive oil, sausages and chopped onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sausages are rendered of fat and onion is soft and starts to brown slightly, about 5-8 minutes. Remove all but 2 Tbs of fat.
Lower the heat and add chopped garlic and cook for 3 minutes.
Add white beans, tomato, red pepper flakes, kale, potatoes and stock. Raise the heat an bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce heat simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour.
Finish with chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
This article was written by Julie Christie and by Dan Harmon of the Hollis Agricultural Commission, based upon information provided by the UNH Cooperative Extension. The recipe was provided by Liz Barbour of the Creative Feast. To learn more about the Commission, which promotes local agriculture, go to www.hollisag.org. To learn more about the Creative Feast, and to see more recipes, go to www.thecreativefeast.com.