What’s a Grower to Do? (9/27/14)

— Written By Barclay Poling

Well, good morning (or what’s left of it)…

It’s good to finally see some sunshine today! We had another 3.7 inches of rain just this past week (where I live Raleigh), and our total for the month is now 5.9 inches. In some areas east of Raleigh, I am aware of locations like Kinston, where more than 6 inches fell in just a few days time in early September. These continuing rainy conditions in September have made it incredibly difficult to stick with our “preferred planting dates” for Chandler and Camarosa. Some growers who are sticking with recommended planting dates, are having to do so without the benefit of fumigation this year.

What’s a grower to do?

During the week of Sept 15th  I found out that a number of producers in our Piedmont region finally decided  to omit fumigation this year. However, I do know of some growers who have their own equipment to fumigate with, and in the case of a grower in the VA Beach area, Tom Baker, he chose to pursue a slightly different course this season with fumigation and planting about a week later than normal. Tom’s normal planting date for Chandler in the VA Beach area the end of September, but this year he will be shooting for around Oct 1-3. I know growers are  reluctant to be setting maybe 5-7 days later than normal, but I would personally rather delay a week than not fumigate at all.

Thus, if you needed to plant by say today (9/27) in VA Beach, you would have had to fumigate on 9/5. But, it was raining (off and on) in VA Beach the first 2 weeks of September. On Sept. 9th, Tom Baker wrote:


Adding insult to bad-enough-already injury, we’ve had 1.5 to 2.75 inches more rain across the area last night, with most of that coming since 6:30 this morning.
Another 0.6 to 0.8” is forecast through Saturday morning.
Send BOATS, please! You might want to fuel up the helicopters, too.


As anyone who follows this advisory knows that in mid-September we had quite a discussion going on this website about the need for shorter plant back fumigants, and on 9/15 (at the request of Tom and a number of growers in NC), I wrote Mike Allan, President of ISAGRO USA, about their new biofumigant, Dominus:

“Hey Mike, We are running seriously behind in getting fumigation done on account of rainy weather pattern. I was reading the label for Dominus and it would be great if we could plant in 10 days.”


Mike replied immediately and wrote:

“Barclay, yes, the planting interval is 10 days from application. As always there is a precaution to consider that in NC soils must be well understood under conditions where soil is saturated. DOMINUS degradates under microbial action. If there is not enough microbial activity in the soil then degradation can be delayed and planting time will need to be delayed as well. We have not tested extensively on NC soils and I understand that your soils present a unique condition with the need to have crops in the ground as soon after fumigation as possible with even 1 week delay can be critical for plant growth and yields. In order to best evaluate the fit we need to discuss the conditions thoroughly before coming to a final decision. It could be a terrific fit but we need to error on the side of caution until we are all comfortable with the possible outcomes. mallan@isagro-usa.com

As I said earlier, Tom is not dependent on a custom fumigator – he does his own. And, he pursued the idea of doing a more aggressive aeration program that would perhaps shave 5+ days off the plant back period for a 21 day fumigant. I have actually discussed this type of program before on this website. On Sept 28, 2102, I wrote:

In a wetter season like this, an Eastern NC grower advised me this morning that he actually uses a traditional spike wheel hole puncher (used for fresh dug plants) at approximately 7-8 days after fumigating to open up the plastic and release the gas. In normal years he would not do this. His usual practice (in normal seasons) is to simply use the “bicycle wheel” to mark the holes, and then the workers set the bare-root transplants through the plastic film with a special hand tool. THERE ARE NOW EVEN AERATION PUNCHERS THAT ARE COMING AVAILABLE, and I believe a lot of this work is being done up in Michigan where they fumigate with Pic Chlor 60 in the spring.

I also learned from Tom Baker that:

“Reddick has manufactured similar “aeration wheels” for Michigan vegetable farmers to use for early-spring fumigation where the fumigation window is short but the weather is still too cool for good dissipation of the fumigant. Unlike our “marking wheels” which sometimes only dimple the plastic, the wheels they make for Michigan have sharpened studs (bolts) to insure the plastic is perforated. They have been very successful with 14 to 16 day plant back with this regimen in Michigan.”

Fumigation with Pic-Chlor on 9/17 in VA Beach (Pungo): 

Tom Baker fumigated his field in Pungo  9/17. And, this was his basic strategy that he related to me in an email on 9/10:

·        Fumigate with Pic-Clor 60 at normal rate (target was about 9/17)
·        Wait 8 to 10 days (8 if warmer, sunnier, and/or if soil dryer at fumigation; 10 if cooler, cloudier, and/or wetter soil).
·        Then “ventilate” beds using marking rig (bicycle wheels with protruding bolts used to mark beds for bare-root planting). This is expected to provide ample aeration; we will not use the water wheel to punch ventilation holes (Victor says you cannot make the holes line up with transplanting holes) .
·        We’ll then plant plugs about 6 days after ventilating (assuming seasonable “September” weather; we’ll check for residual Clor-Pic using the baggie-in-the-sun technique).

Just after he fumigated in moist  soil on 9/17, Tom phoned me and said, “We may have just made the best beds we’ve every made – we had excellent moisture and the beds are nice and  squared off at shoulders.

Tom also made one change from the initial plan – he did not use bicycle wheel idea. He chose instead to modify an older water wheel with 14 inch spacing with 3 inch bolts every 14 inches to pierce the plastic. He drilled down the old water wheel spikes. I will definitely ask Tom to send us a picture of this hole punching rig when he gets a chance. But, I know he  wasn’t so sure about the penetration of the plastic that he would get from the bicycle wheel. His regular water wheel that he uses for planting is 15 inch, so it should not be an issue with aeration holes lining up with transplanting holes.

In another call with Tom, he informed me that his plan was to punch plastic in 8-10 days following the 9/17 fumigation with his new modified aeration wheel.

Based on some very chilly, and wet conditions this past week, I am guessing that Tom probably waited until today to do the punching (10 days). He will monitor conditions after today to see how quickly he might plant – 4 days if warmer, sunnier, and 6 days if cooler, cloudier.

I know this can get a little confusing,  so I constructed this table so you can better see how this is playing out:

Punch Punch
Fume date 8 day 10 day
17-Sep 25-Sep 27-Sep
Wait Wait
Punch date 4 days 6 days
25-Sep 29-Sep 1-Oct
27-Sep 1-Oct 3-Oct

I am looking forward to Tom’s further updates on how all this is turning out (please send photos of puncher). I appreciate his taking time to share with us the “adjustments” he has had to make this season to try to get his crop planted on time. I don’t think his planting a week later than normal with Chandler is a big deal, especially if the fall is a mild one.

Let me leave you with a humorous remark made D.L. Tuttle, the first strawberry plasticulture grower in Rockingham, NC (and former President of NC Strawberry Assn). I asked him once when is the best planting time in Rockingham County (upper piedmont county on VA line), for Chandler, and his response was:

“You tell me what the fall is going to be like, and I’ll tell you when to plant it.”

Dr. E. Barclay Poling
Professor Emeritus (Strawberry Plasticulture Researcher)
& Interim Exec. Dir., NC Strawberry Assn., Inc.
Department of Horticultural Science
Campus Box 7609, 162A Kilgore Hall
NC State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
“When everyone is thinking the  same…  someone isn’t   thinking ….”  —  George S  Patton
“Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.”
General George S. Patton.