Food Adventures with Connie

Archive for the category “fruit”

Peach Leaf Curl

We are seeing quite a bit of peach leaf curl in Southeast Nebraska.  Peach leaf curl is caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans.  This fungal disease is one of the most common diseases in the home orchard and can affect the blossoms, fruit, leaves, and shoots of peaches and nectarines.  (Cherries have a similar leaf curl diseases caused by T. cerasi.)  Peach leaf curl is more severe following cool, wet springs; temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees F are ideal for infection.


The primary symptom is a thickened, puckered area on leaves which will turn yellow to red or purple with the loss of chlorophyll.  These leaves may prematurely drop, weakening the tree and making it more susceptible to other diseases, pests, and cold injury. The disease can also result in reduced fruit set, size, and quality.

A single fungicide spray applied while trees are still dormant (just prior to bud swell), thoroughly covering all branches, shoots, and buds will control peach leaf curl.  Effective controls include Bravo, Ziram, and copper compounds.  See the Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide for details.

At this time of year, most infection has already occurred, and fungicide sprays are relatively ineffective.  Fruit on defoliated trees should be thinned to reduce stress and improve tree survival.


The Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of Soil Sampling for Home Fruit and Vegetable Production

Whether establishing a new garden or orchard or managing an existing planting, submitting a soil sample for analysis is an important step in sustainable food production.  The results you obtain from this test will let you know if your soil has an appropriate pH for the crop you want to grow and offer recommendations of amendments necessary for optimal plant growth; they will also let you know if you can cut back on your fertilizer applications which will save you money and may result in greater yield.



Anyone growing fruits or vegetables should collect and submit a soil sample for testing every three to five years, more often if changing production systems or trying to identify the cause of poor plant growth and production.


A soil sample is a composite mixture of multiple sub-samples (10 to 15 should be sufficient for most home plantings).  If your planting contains more than one soil type (different texture, color, drainage, etc.), then you should collect a separate sample of each.


Sub-samples should be collected randomly across the production area, to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.  In perennial tree and vine crops you may want to collect a second sample as deep as 24 inches if you suspect severe subsoil problems; the root systems of these plants may extend 36 inches or more into the soil.  Keep in mind however that amendments primarily affect just the upper soil layer; nutrients like phosphorus and potassium and amendments for adjusting pH like lime are not very mobile in the soil.  Incorporating these amendments deeper in the soil is not an option for perennial plants because you want to avoid damaging their root systems.


A soil sample can be taken any time the soil is not frozen.  It is best to submit samples in the fall or early spring so you have time to apply any necessary amendments before or early in the next growing season.  Soil test values will vary by season; you will want to collect samples in subsequent years during the same season so results and recommendations can be compared.

For best results, collect samples when the soil is relatively dry rather than after a rain event or irrigation.


Soil pH and nutrient content have a direct effect on the health and productivity of fruit and vegetable plants.  Submitting soil samples for testing will provide you with recommendations for amendments that can improve your soil quality.

Your results may indicate that you have been applying too much of certain nutrients.  For example, excessive nitrogen in the soil will cause your plants to become excessively vegetative (lush green growth) with a negative effect on fruit yield and quality.  Knowing this will allow you to reduce your fertilizer inputs, and therefore your annual input costs.



Three different soil probes capable of sampling to a depth of 8 inches.

Use a soil probe, auger, spade, or shovel to collect sub-samples from 10 to 15 points across your production area.  Make sure you sample from where the plant root systems are or will be (rather than from walkways, for example).  Mix the sub-samples together in a clean plastic bucket, removing any large stones, vegetation, or other foreign material.  You’ll need about two cups of soil to fill the lab-provided sample container.


Soil sampling in a peach planting using an auger. Samples should be collected where the plant’s roots are located, here at the peach tree’s dripline.

Several labs in Nebraska offer soil testing.  Midwest Laboratories in Omaha and AgSource in Lincoln are two options.  Their websites contain information about requesting a soil sample test kit, which parameters they test for, and when you can expect to receive your results.  The test will cost approximately $25 per sample.

Next Steps

Your soil test results will contain recommendations for soil amendments based on the garden or orchard crops you indicate on the sample submission form.  If you have questions about interpreting your test results or which soil amendments will best meet the needs of your site and production system, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.

Most fruit and vegetable plants prefer an acidic soil pH.  If your test results indicate that the soil’s pH is too high, elemental sulfur can be used to lower it.  Just keep in mind that Nebraska’s clay soils have a high buffering capacity which means that their pH will immediately begin to rise after you add sulfur.  To maintain the desired pH you may need to add sulfur every year or two.

For more information about managing soil and nutrients for vegetable production check out UNL’s Fertilizers for Vegetables in Home Gardens. The Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide is an excellent source of information about fruit production, including recommended fertilizer rates.

Handful of garden soil photo via Jing,, CC0 Public Domain.

Pruning Fire Blight Out of Backyard Fruit Trees

Fire blight (Erwinia amylovora) is a bacterial disease affecting pome fruits like apple, crabapple, pear, and quince.  It usually enters the tree through flowers during bloom, but can also enter with injury such as from hail or pruning and affect any part of the tree.

shoots of apple with brown "scorched" leaves from fire blight infection

Figure 1. Fire blight on apple.

hooked tip of a fire blight infected apple twig demonstrating the characteristic shepherd's crook shape

Figure 2. Shepherd’s crook.

The main disease symptom is the scorched appearance of affected twigs (Figure 1).  Twigs wilt from the tip downward and form a hook like a shepherd’s crook (Figure 2).  Leaves on the twigs turn brown or black but don’t drop from the tree.  If left unchecked, symptoms will progress down branches, where cankers will form.  Bacteria can overwinter in these cankers, and be transferred to flowers by insects the following spring, spreading the disease.


What to Do Now

While most fruit tree pruning is done during the late winter or early spring, when trees are dormant, you don’t want to wait to remove fire blight or it can continue to move into older wood, and eventually can even kill young trees.

During the growing season, when the weather is dry, prune back about 12 inches below visible symptoms.  Remove the prunings from the yard/orchard and burn them.  Between each pruning cut, clean your pruners by dipping them in a 70% ethyl or isopropyl alcohol solution for 30 seconds to avoid spreading the bacterium.


For more information:

Fire Blight of Apple, Pear and Woody Ornamentals

Backyard Farmer segment on Fire Blight

New Food Safety Rules and How They May Impact Your Pantry

By now you may have heard that there are new food safety rules going into effect in the United States. But how will these new regulations impact the foods you feed your family?

selection of fresh fruits and vegetables

As stated on the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) webpage, “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.” It includes regulations for fresh produce growers, food processors, and food importers and the foreign companies they work with.

The key components of FSMA are:

  1. Preventative Controls – food facilities are required to evaluate the hazards in their operations, implement and monitor effective measures to prevent contamination, and have a plan in place to take any corrective actions when necessary.
    Produce growers and food processors don’t want to make their customers sick and most are already taking food safety precautions. In addition, many growers already undergo third-party audits required by retail buyers that certify their compliance with food safety standards. Food processors usually employ quality assurance technicians that sample and monitor product and food contact surfaces every shift, testing for the presence of physical, chemical, and microbial hazards. The U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world.
  2. Inspection and Compliance – The industry will be held accountable for their responsibility to produce safe products through FDA inspection.
    It is unclear exactly what this will look like, how frequently facilities will be inspected, who will cover the costs, etc. but these inspections will be in addition to those third-party audits already required by many retail buyers, and produce growers and food processing facilities will likely have to shoulder the additional cost which may translate into higher prices in the market.
  3. Imported Food Safety – The FDA will work with food importers to ensure that foods coming into the U.S. are safe and requires certification, based on risk criteria, that the imports are in compliance with food safety regulations. The FDA has the authority to refuse admission of imported food if the foreign facility or country refuses to allow an FDA inspection.
    According to the FDA’s Food Safety Legislation Key Facts webpage, “An estimated 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood,” so this may affect availability of some products at your local market, though food safety risk is a valid reason to refuse product entry, as I’m sure you agree. Most foreign suppliers will comply in order to continue to sell to the U.S.

FSMA currently includes five rules (though more are proposed): 1) the Preventive Controls for Human Food Final Rule, 2) the Preventive Controls for Food for Animals Final Rule, 3) the Standards for Produce Safety Final Rule, 4) the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals Final Rule, and 5) the Accredited Third-Party Certification Final Rule. For more details, please refer to the Final Rules.

Overview of the Standards for Produce Safety Final Rule

In my role working with fruit and vegetable growers in Nebraska I am focused on understanding and teaching the Standards for Produce Safety. This final rule was released November 13, 2015 and is described on the FDA’s FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety webpage. It “establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption” and contains six key components:

  1. Agricultural Water
  2. Biological Soil Amendments
  3. Sprouts
  4. Domesticated and Wild Animals
  5. Worker Training and Health and Hygiene
  6. Equipment, Tools and Buildings

It also contains details on operations that are exempt from the rule, such as those that only grow commodities rarely consumed raw (e.g., asparagus, winter squash). The FDA has created a flowchart to help growers determine if their farm may be eligible for exemption. Exempt growers must file for exemption, review their status annually, and maintain records. Non-exempt growers have from one to four years to come into compliance with the rule, depending on whether or not they grow sprouts and based on their annual gross produce sales (smaller operations are given more time to become compliant).

Q & A

I polled my friends and relatives to learn what questions they might have about the implications of this rule.

Q: Why do we need another regulation? Isn’t our food supply already safe?
A: Yes, our food supply is one of the safest in the world. This regulation allows the FDA to implement a mandatory inspection process for all non-exempt food producers to make sure they’re meeting food safety standards (shifting their focus to preventing foodborne illnesses rather than responding after contamination has made people sick) and gives the FDA the power to force a product recall where in the past a recall could be encouraged but was voluntary.

Q: How will I know if produce I’m buying is following the FDA guidelines? Will they be marked with a sticker or special packaging?
A: No, there will be no special packaging or product identifiers to let you know if the farm your food came from follows FDA’s FSMA rules or was inspected. My advice to you is to get to know your local growers and talk to them about how they grow and handle your fruits and vegetables. If you buy all your produce at the grocery store, talk to the produce manager to learn what they require of their growers; as mentioned above, most retailers already require third-party audits where an inspector will visit a farm and certify that they follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

Q: Will this affect Americans differently depending on where they live?
A: No, the rules apply to all non-exempt U.S. food producers and importers so it will affect the food you buy to feed your family, regardless of which part of the country you call home.

Q: Will the produce be coated with any substance that will require me to wash it more than I already do before eating it?
A: No, FSMA does not mandate produce coatings. Fruit and vegetable coatings are primarily used to maintain quality during storage, not to affect food safety.

Q: Do farmers’ market growers have to follow the same guidelines or are they exempt because they are on a much smaller distribution scale?
A: Farms that have less than $25,000 in annual gross produce sales are NOT covered by this rule, though the farmers’ market may require that they understand and implement food safety precautions on the farm. When in doubt, talk to the growers and the market manager about the steps they take to provide you with safe food.

Guidance for Growers

If you are a fruit or vegetable grower, save or print a copy of the FDA’s Key Requirements: Final Rule on Produce Safety as a reference.  MSU Extension also has a series of fact sheets that may be useful as you try to understand exactly what the Produce Safety Rule means to your operation:

Stay tuned as Nebraska Extension will be offering food safety trainings for growers later this year.

Nitrates in Your Well Water? Effects on humans, crops, and animals

running water in sink

If you’re buying property with a well you’ve probably been advised to have the well water tested for nitrates (among other things). Why do you need to be concerned about nitrates? What effect will high nitrates in the water have on your family, irrigated fruits and vegetables, and livestock you plan to raise for personal use or sale into the local food system? Here’s a list of online resources to help you evaluate the risk.

  • The acute health hazard associated with drinking water with nitrate occurs when bacteria in the digestive system transform nitrate to nitrite. The nitrite reacts with iron in the hemoglobin of red blood cells to form methemoglobin, which lacks the oxygen-carrying ability of hemoglobin. This creates the condition known as methemoglobinemia (sometimes referred to as “blue baby syndrome”), in which blood lacks the ability to carry sufficient oxygen to the individual body cells. Infants under one year of age have the highest risk of developing methemoglobinemia, followed by older persons who have a gastrointestinal system disorder resulting in increased bacteria growth. (NebGuide: Drinking Water: Nitrate-Nitrogen)
  • Testing for nitrate should occur any time a pregnant woman, woman anticipating pregnancy or infant under 6 months old becomes a water user. (NebGuide: Drinking Water: Testing for Quality)
  • If testing reveals high nitrate levels in well water, you may want to switch to a public or municipal water source for your home or invest in a reverse osmosis water treatment system. Reverse osmosis is effective at reducing several ions and metals, including nitrate. (NebGuide: Drinking Water Treatment: Reverse Osmosis)
  • Water with greater than 10 mg/L (10 ppm) of nitrate-nitrogen should not be used for drinking, but can be used for washing and rinsing produce. (
  • Fruits, grains, and dairy products contribute almost no nitrate to people’s diets. (
  • Nitrate-nitrogen commonly occurs in well water, and by knowing the amount present, it can be accounted for, thus potentially reducing fertilizer input costs. (

well water hydrant

  • Nitrogen in the irrigation water has much the same effect as soil-applied fertilizer nitrogen; an excess will cause problems, just as too much fertilizer would (over-stimulation of growth, delayed maturity or poor quality). Since nitrogen is present in many water supplies, it is recommended that the nitrogen content of all irrigation water be monitored and the nitrogen present included as an integral part of the planned fertilization program. Sensitive crops may be affected by nitrogen concentrations above 5 mg/L. For example, grapes are sensitive and may continue to grow late into the season at the expense of fruit production; yields are often reduced and grapes may be late in maturing and have lower sugar content. In many grain crops, excessive vegetative growth produces weak stalks that cannot support the grain weight, resulting in severe lodging and difficulties for machine harvesting. (
drip irrigation for grapes

With high nitrate levels in irrigation water perennial fruit trees and vines may continue to grow vegetatively late in the season reducing fruit yields, delaying maturity, lowering sugar content, and making plants more susceptible to cold damage.

  • High nitrogen water can be used as a fertilizer early in the season. However, as the nitrogen needs of the crop diminish later in the growing season, the nitrogen applied to the crop must be substantially reduced. Blending or changing supplies during the later more critical growth stages should be helpful. Another option is to plant a less sensitive crop, such as corn, which can utilize the nitrogen from the irrigation water more effectively. For crops irrigated with water containing nitrogen, the rates of nitrogen fertilizer supplied to the crop can be reduced by an amount very nearly equal to that available from the water supply. (
drip irrigation on pumpkins

Test irrigation water for nitrates and subtract the amount provided from your nitrogen fertilizer application.

Producer Interview: In the Orchard with Tyler Vock

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tyler Vock, Orchard Manager at Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard north of Nebraska City, Nebraska to learn more about the operation and get his advice for beginning farmers considering fruit production.

Q1: How many acres is this farm?
A1: 98 total.

Q2: Which crops do you grow here?
A2: We grow apples, cherries, peaches, strawberries, vegetables, pears, plums, pumpkins, and sweet corn.

Q3: What is your main crop and why?
A3: Apples – it’s what we’re known for at Kimmel Orchard. About half of the total acres here are planted in apples.

Q4: You grow multiple apple varieties. Can you share which ones are your favorites?
A4: My favorites are Honeycrisp, Jonathan, and Pink Lady. The Honeycrisp are a sweet apple; they’re definitely the most popular apple that we grow here. I like the Jonathans because they’re tart. And I like the Pink Lady apples because they’re the last apple of the year so that means we’re almost done for the season.

high-density apple trees on a trellis

High-density tall spindle apple trees at        Kimmel Orchard

Q5: I noticed that you have a portion of the orchard trained to a trellis. What are the benefits of this production system?
A5: The trellis system that we’re doing now is a new way to grow apple trees called tall spindle or high-density planting. It’s a good way to boost early production in apple trees and make your money back faster. You plant the trees three-feet apart with twelve foot rows in between. The maximum height these trees will grow is nine to ten feet. What you really want is early fruit production. They start producing in the second year and then by year five you can harvest about a thousand bushels per acre. If you can accomplish that you’ll make your money back a little bit faster and it’s a more profitable system. Plus I think it’s the best way to make sure that all guests, from the first guest in September to the last guest in October, have a chance to get apples. For me, I think that it’s an easier system than the old trees. Pruning in the winter is a lot easier – you can zip right through those lines, not spending a lot of time on one tree. And if you have a person on each side of the row it seems like it goes really fast. It’s a little bit more work to get them started, but if you do it right it’s an awesome system.

Q6: Are there any differences between now and when you started managing the orchard three years ago?
A6: For me it’s the knowledge that comes with it, so things are easier for me now. When I started I was a row crop kid, born and raised in Nebraska City; I liked to work with cattle. So when I started here it was a pretty steep learning curve. You learn something new every day and I feel that once you know what you know everything gets a little easier here. So I would say the confidence in growing everything just within three years of working here.

Q7: So most of what you know about orchard management you learned on-the-job?
A7: Yes, that, and reading a lot of research papers on how to get everything going. For the most part I learned hands-on – that’s the best way to learn, right?

Q8: What has been your greatest challenge as an orchard manager?
A8: Right now it’s managing fire blight in the area. It’s a bacterium that gets into the trees and if you’re not careful with it, it can really start to harm the orchard. So getting that figured out and working with the spray schedule in general to make sure fungi aren’t becoming a problem, and scouting for pests. It’s difficult, but that’s what needs to be done to make high quality fruit.

Q9: Do you have any projects planned that we should keep a lookout for in the future?
A9: We’re growing sweet corn this year, so that’s one thing that’s different. In about five years we will be replanting our eight acres which is the biggest block of trees that we have. We’ll be going from the old production system to all the trees being trained to the tall spindle system. So instead of 26 rows of trees there will be 47 and instead of 1000 trees we’ll have 9100 trees in there. I still get questions all the time from people that we show this tall spindle model to; they can’t believe that you can grow apple trees that close to each other. But once you explain to them the purpose of it, they get it.

Q10: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about fruit production at Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard?
A10: It’s a lot of hard work but at the end of the year when you get to see families come out and spend the day picking… It makes it all worth a full year of work seeing people out here having fun and getting compliments on the quality of fruit. That’s the best thing about working here.

Q11: What advice do you have for young people thinking about going into fruit production?
A11: Just do your research. If you’re going to choose a tall spindle don’t take any shortcuts, put the work in; if you do it right it’s going to be very profitable for you. And it will be pretty fun too. Every year a new development happens so it’s not like a repetitive job; you’re always doing something different. And if you like being outdoors, I’d say go for it.

For more information on high-density apple plantings:

For more information on fire blight:

And for more information on Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard and upcoming events, visit and follow their blog at

4 Ways to Use Fruiting Plants in Your Landscape

Renovating part of your landscape this year? Consider incorporating fruiting plants. They can fulfill many of the functions of ornamental landscape plants with the added benefit of supporting bees and wildlife. Humans will also enjoy eating the following fruits fresh, or processed into juice, jelly, jam, desserts, or wine.

1. Groundcovers

Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) make an excellent groundcover in the landscape, filling in space under trees and shrubs and in flower beds, and are especially useful on slopes to prevent erosion. The plants produce runners and daughter plants that will quickly fill in the space (Fig. 1), covering the ground and choking out weeds. Strawberry cultivars are either ever-bearing/day neutral (bear several crops of fruit throughout the season, but fruit tend to be smaller in size) or June-bearing (bear larger fruit but only for a 2-3 week period in the early summer, which is best if you want volume for processing). If you want the plants to stay put, consider Alpine strawberries (Fragaria x vesca) which don’t send out runners and produce small fruit all summer long.

2. Shrubs

If you’re in the market for a fruiting shrub, there are several options suited to our area including Aronia (Aronia spp.), Currants (Black, Red, and White; Ribes spp.), Elderberry (Sambucus spp.), Gooseberry (R. uva-crispa), Jostaberry (Ribes nidigrolaria), and Serviceberry/Juneberry (Amelanchier spp.; some are small trees). Blackberries (Rubus spp.), Red raspberries (Rubus idaeus), and Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) can also be used in the landscape, though they will require more management than the other shrubs to keep them contained (Fig. 2) and minimize disease.

3. Vines

Grapevines (Vitis spp.) and hardy kiwifruit (Actinidia spp.) vines (Fig. 3a and 3b) are beautiful trained to grow over a trellis or arbor in the landscape. They can provide shade on a patio or create a living screen between your yard and your neighbor’s property. ‘Issai’ is a hardy kiwifruit cultivar that can produce fruit on a single plant; all other kiwifruit cultivars will require that you have enough space to plant a male for pollination purposes if you want fruit.

4. Shade trees

Many fruit trees are available to provide shade in the landscape. Small trees (less than 30 feet tall) are often preferred by homeowners and include Black cherry/Rum cherry (Prunus serotina), Chokecherry (P. virginiana), Cornelian cherry/Dogwood (Cornus mas), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), and American (wild) plum (P. americana). Mulberry (Morus spp.) and Persimmon (Diospyros spp.) are taller trees that also work in the landscape.

As with many ornamental landscape plants, fruiting plants in the landscape may require watering, pruning, fertilizing, or pest management, but the effort required is a small price to pay for the many benefits listed above. And the satisfaction that comes from growing your own fresh fruit is priceless!

For more information:

Edible Woody Landscapes for People and Wildlife,

Edible Landscapes, Seed Edible Landscapes 2010.pdf

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