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Homeward Bound

I had an amazing time in California last week and couldn’t have asked for a better experience!  As I mentioned two weeks ago, we were in Delano sensing two different table grape vineyards, one of which was already being harvested.  That Friday we sensed a merlot J. Lohr vineyard in Paso Robles, which was one of my favorite places we visited.  It is in the hills, rather than the valley, and even though California is in the middle of a severe drought and everything is brown, it was still beautifudriving ATVl!  On Saturday we sensed a petite sirah Gallo vineyard.  Seeing the management and quality of these vineyards was amazing; they were trellised and maintained almost perfectly.

The sensors we were using were Crop Circle canopy sensors produced by Holland Scientific that measure the vegetative index.  We had two that we attached to an ATV or tractor to get two different readings from the vines (photo to the left).  The sensors were also hooked up to a data logger, along with a GPS.  As we drove down the rows of the vineyard the sensors would collect the data and the GPS would keep track of the location, which allows the data to be compared throughout the vineyard and exact locations of data points to be recorded.

I also attended the NGWI (National Wine and Grape Initiative) conference last Monday.   The morning was spent in the vineyard at the UC Davis experimental station where a researcher from Carnegie Mellon talked about his research on nondestructive yield estimates (photo to the right).  He has created an imaging system tunnamedhat takes photos at set intervals that can be used to estimate the yield.  The rest of the day was spent listening to other researchers talk about their projects.  The most educational aspect for me was learning about the funding and grant writing that goes into the projects, which is something I have known about, but listening to the discussion first hand was interesting.

The meeting was finished off with a wine reception and dinner at Louis M Martini wine cellar in Napa.  It was one of the most delicious dinners I have ever had and in one of the most unique locations.  How many people can say they have dined by candle light in a wine cellar surrounded by giant oak barrels?  The reception allowed me to talk with several different people and make invaluable connections that will hopefully open doors for me in the future.  The trip as a whole cemented my interest in the field, and with my undergraduate education coming to an end, it has gotten me thinking about potential job opportunities and options in the wine and grape industry.

We were also able to have some fun on the trip! Friday afternoon was spent driving up the coast, and we stopped several times to take photos of the view.  One of the spots we stopped at had a trail that we followed down to a rocky shore line where there were tidal pools with anemones aCoastnd clams.  Farther up the coast, in Monterey, we stopped at a beach and waded in the Pacific Ocean.  On Sunday we drove into San Francisco, where we walked part way across the Golden Gate Bridge, and rode the cable car down to the fisherman’s wharf where we ate lunch at the Boudin sourdough bakery.  San Francisco is definitely a city I would love to go back to with more time to explore!

The end of last week was spent counting the mites on the hop leaves Kim collected for me on Tuesday while I was gone.  There has definitely been an increase in TSSM, and the mites aren’t found everywhere, but rather in little pockets around the hopyard.  I still haven’t found very many predatory mites and Tim has suggested that maybe I release more at the opposite end of the hopyard, as some of the TSSM numbers are above the 5-10 mites per leave threshold for July.  Next week I will have a better update for you, as I will be discussing my project with Tim and Greg, my faculty supervisor for the project on Wednesday.

The two vineyard photos and the photo of the coast were taken by Terry Bates


As the planting season winds down the seemingly never ending task of keeping the crop healthy and growing begins to take the majority of the work day. Everyday there is at least one person cultivating crops like cabbage, squash, or cauliflower and another spraying foliar nutrient applications, fungicides, insecticides,


Spraying organic insecticides on cabbage

or some combination. Pre-plant fertilizing is done, for the most part, and instead fertilizer is applied as a topdress or sideress application. If I wasn’t doing any of those things, I was preparing for harvest with tasks like cleaning out storage barns or getting refrigeration units in shape. I am always amazed how there is always something important to do.

The first time I cultivated was an experience for sure. I was sent to a field in my no-cab tractor with a three row cultivator hitched to the back. For those of you who don’t know, a cultivator is effectively a series of shanks which rip through the soil on either side of the crop row, killing the weeds but leaving the crop alone, ideally. The cultivator as configured for squash on five feet centers, so there was some leeway for error, but not much. This field was a sandy soil and a side-hill. This environment meant that the back of the tractor slid downhill as I drove along, in addition, the cultivator itself was able to shift on the back. All these factors combined to me driving the tractor at a slight angle with the front wheel just shy of the row to the right in order to avoid hitting the row to the left.


Cultivating a field of pumpkins

As the ground leveled outI had to steer the tractor back towards the center, to avoid running downthe crop to the right. The entire time I had to watch the cultivator on the back, the front tire, and what the row was about to do, this meant that I had to look back and forth over my my shoulder and then forward. After a couple of twelve hours day of that I was sore and tired of looking at endless rows of young squash.

On my second day of cultivating I learned that you do not joke about the health of a farmer’s plants. I noticed a part on the cultivator which set the depth was missing, so I was burying every third row. I asked Rick to bring out a replacement, and when he got there he asked what the damage was from my cultivating. I responded that I had left more standing than I knocked down and you would have thought I told him that I was aiming at the crop and not the weeds. Needless to say I did not make any jokes like that again.

Field Day, Manure, and Drones

Last week we visited the Musgraves Research Farm’s field day in Aurora, and our experiments were on the day’s agenda.  The field day focused on new management methods, breeding improvements, and environmentally sound farming practices.  There were eight different stations located around the farm, and you learned a lot about each subject as you worked your way through them.

Professor Matt Ryan showing the effectiveness of a new mulching tool (right)

Professor Matt Ryan showing the effectiveness of a new mulching tool (right)

Implement used to crimp and roll down cereal crops for mulch

Implement used to crimp and roll down cereal crops for mulch


This week was a nice break from the emissions testing routine because I got to work on a new project just past Aurora in Auburn.  We are testing a new type of manure applicator that allows farmers to manure fields during the early summer, freeing up a lot of their valuable and limited time during spring planting.Manure applications can’t normally be done this time of year because the corn is too tall and the applicators we use today would crush a lot of the crop.  This applicator has been called the nutrient boom because it’s a 120-foot wide (48 corn rows) boom that stands high above the corn at around nine feet.  In the front of the field, the boom is attached to a tractor and pulled to the back of the field.  This causes the massive reel of drag line that is attached to the boom to unravel and follow the boom.  At the back of the field, the tractor unhooks the boom, and the reel begins pulling the boom back across the field, all while pumping manure through the drag line and spreading it over the 120-foot path.  This is a new implement that has a lot of potential for growth and development in the future of agriculture.

Nutrient boom being transported to the end of the field

Nutrient boom being transported to the end of the field

The massive reel that retracts the nutrient boom once it's detached from the tractor

The massive reel that retracts the nutrient boom once it’s detached from the tractor

Apparently we weren’t the only ones excited by it, either.  While we were using the equipment in the field, we noticed a man pull his car along the road and launch a surveillance drone.  He flew this little four-rotor helicopter right over us and used its video camera to see what we were doing.  I still don’t know what to think about that, but it makes for a unique story.  I can’t believe that the summer is winding down already, but I’m sure that there will be some more interesting events in these last few weeks.

My First County Fair

I participated in my first county fair this past week as an exhibitor with Cooperative Extension and the PRISM. We set up our exhibit in the “Ranger Cabin” of the 4-H and Conservation area of the fair grounds. Among us in the area was a live bluegrass band, a history reenactor, an old fashioned Scottish soap maker, a “mountain man”, a blacksmith, and outdoor cooking of delicious cobblers, pulled pork, and stews using Dutch ovens.  We were also surrounded by other exhibitors that take part in an effort to conserve different areas of the wild.

As far as the rest of the Fairgrounds goes, there was LOTS of food. There were also cows, sheep, goats, chickens, horses, rabbits, and even two reindeer. There were truck pulls, tractor pulls, demolition derbies, pig races, rodeos, and an assortment of children and adults amusement rides. Your typical county fair, I guess.

It was an exhausting week as we were there all day every day. We had a very nice set up though, we were in the cabin with DEC educators, and between the two of us we had lots of information about local invasive species. Many people came in very enthusiastic about what we are doing, and what they can do, to help control the spread of invasives. My favorite site for the week was watching the young kids come in interested in a lot of the bug and wanting to know why their bad and how they can help us to stop them. Some kids came in already knowledgeable on the subject of Emerald Ash Borer or Asian Longhorned Beetle, and other kids came in asking questions to us or their parents and genuinely interested in what had to be said. A lot of adults would end up using the cabin as a shortcut, or just look around not really raising much question or interest, so it was really reassuring that the children held such interest in the topic.






Aside from the work experience, I spent some time experiencing the fair for myself. Our executive Director, Bill Schwerd, got me out and about trying and seeing some new things. He brought me to the air-soft range where I got to try my hand at using a gun like that for the first time. Following that I took my turn at using a lathe to make a box. That was a really cool experience and I joke with some seriousness that I have found my new hobby. When I return home I will take more time to sand it to perfection before putting a finish on it. Afterwards, I saw my first pig races; how funny they were.


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My turn at wood turning.

My turn at wood turning.


The next night I got to experience the 4-H Farmer Olympics. I was only a time keeper for these teams but boy, was it entertaining. Young Farmers in the 4-H program got to make teams of 4 to compete in 4 different events and the team with the fastest overall time, wins. The first race was a wheel-barrel race where the operator was blindfolded with a person in the barrel and the other two teammates had to direct the operator where to turn. It was so funny watching these kids. They ran into hay bales and the posts that held the tent up and kept the crowd laughing with the following events too. Afterwards, I watched a few truck pulls before heading home.

The week as as fun as it was tiring. I met a lot of great people and heard many great stories from new friends. This is not my last post yet, that will be next week, but I would really like to thank those that have made my experience at Cooperative Extension here in Saratoga County a great one. I have really enjoyed all the opportunities that have brought me out of the office to meet people in the community. These past 9 weeks have been a lot of fun.

Look out for my last post next Friday about my time with Christina Hall at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls informing people and farmers about our project we conducted this summer.



Spreading Fertilizer

The first month of work was a constant blur of running around trying to get hundreds of acres planted with a huge variety of crops – cabbage, cauliflower, field and sweet corn, squash pumpkins, gourds,


Spreading fertilizer on field 103

soybeans, so on. Crops like field corn, soybeans, and squash are direct seeded while crops like sweet corn and cabbage are transplanted. Direct seeding takes a lot less time and a lot less labor. It can be completed with only one or two people and the planter can move across the field, depending on field conditions, at up to six or seven miles per hour, maybe even more if the field conditions allow it. Transplanting, on the other hand, requires around a dozen people, plants six rows at a time, and can only move across the field at a mile or two per hour. Typically before anything is planted a pre-plant fertilizer is spread.

I described mixing the fertilizer in the last post, and now I’ll describe what happens after that. Each fertilizer is applied at a different rate, measured in pounds or tons per acre. The rate can be set by opening or closing a gate on the back of the spreader. The density was the main determining factor in setting the rate.  A chart displaying a range of densities on one axis and the gate setting on the other, with the rates listed between the two.Usually the fertilizer I spread is between 45 and 50lb/cubic foot, and spread between 1000 and 1500 lb/acre. This means that the gate would be set at four or five inches.



Once in the field I was supposed to drive in straight lines at forty foot centers. Until you have practiced this a few times, it is really difficult to accomplish this, and I left many winding paths through the fields.When I was first learning to use the spreader I was told it was a good idea to pace out forty feet and mark it with a flag so you have something to aim at on your way back down the field. For me, fourteen steps takes me forty feet, but I never had a flag to mark so I simply noted which tree or landmark in general to aim the nose of the tractor at.


Field cultivator

Once the fertilizer was spread, typically someone would come in with a disk or field cultivator to mix it into the soil and spread it through the root zone, making it more available to the plants. In addition, when mixed in the nutrients are less vulnerable to loss from processes like erosion and volatilization. Once this was done the planters would move into the field, sometimes while we were still preparing the field, depending on how short on time we were.

Week #5 Learning a bit about Livestock

This week I had the opportunity to attend an udder dissection at a local farms in the town of Perry and Oakfield, NY. The udder dissection was an especially interesting event since the workshop was offered in Spanish and also in English! At each farm there were both English and Spanish speaking milkers, so this was a great learning opportunity for those who were able to attend. It is incredibly important for all employees to understand why certain milking procedures are followed, but sometimes language barriers may be problematic. By educating milkers about the process of the milk production in the udder, it helps to ensure the safety of the cow (and her udder) which must be a priority since she can be milked 2 or 3 times a day. As almost any dairyman will tell you, keeping the cows healthy and comfortable is directly related to milk production, which means making more money at the end of the day.


At the dissection we discussed they physiology of the cow’s udder,  how to prevent mastitis, and why certain milking procedures are performed the way that they are. I found it especially fascinating that each of the cows teats receives its milk from separate quadrants of the udder. I think this is something many people do not think about or do not realize! This adaptation that allows each quadrant to operate independently from the others allows milk production to continue, even if one of the teats becomes infected, or damaged in some way. Below you can see a photo of the entire udder before it was dissected. Having a strong stomach was definitely necessary for today, especially since lunch was served right after the dissection was over!

Fredonia to Delano

Each week I learn more and more about how important it is to manage pest issues both in the hopyard and vineyard.  Last week I was able to spend the day with Luke, the Viticulture Extension Specialist here at CLEREL, in Niagra County.  We visited four different vineyards and did a follow-up winter damage assessment.  We unnamed3ranked the vines by the number of clusters they had and by their growth.  We also noted any disease we saw in the vines; we saw quite a bit of crown gall, downy mildew, and powdery mildew (photo to the right).  I really enjoyed meeting all of the vineyard owners and listening to them talk about their management practices and the work they put into their vineyards.  Hopefully I will have more photos of the diseases to pphoto(1)ost later.

The rest of last week and the beginning of this week were spent working on my project in the hops.  I collected both my low and high leaf samples and counted the predatory mites and the TSSM on the leaves.  I still haven’t seen very many of the predatory mites I released with Kim in June, but I am starting to see increasing numbers of TSSM and I have a feeling these numbers will only keep rising.

Now for some exciting news!  I landed safely in Sacremento, California yesterday where I will be until next Tuesday. I was able to join Terry Bates, the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Director, scan vineyards from Delano to Napa Valley.  This is my first trip to California, and I couldn’t be more excited!  Today we scanned two table grape vineyards in Delano and tomorrow we will be in Paso Robles. It is amazing to see how much farther along the table grapes were than the grapes at home (photo to the left); a lot of the table grape vineyards are already being harvested. I will have lots of news and photos from my trip to share with you when I get back next week!

Counting, Traveling, and Learning

Brace yourselves. I could get long-winded here (but there are a lot of pictures this week, so I’d like to think you won’t get bored).

Earlier in July, we had a training set up where we discussed the protocol for farm visits for our project and the identification of our target species–knapweed (I say ‘our’, there are two of us completing similar internships in different locations, Kaitlyn is in Saratoga). I have spoken very little in my blogs about my actual project for the summer. The process to work out all the kinks in our protocol has been a long one. I would attach a link where you can find good information on knapweed, but I think that Kaitlyn’s blog sums it up well as she explains much more about it and about our project. There are four major species of interest in New York State that we will be looking for and mapping. We will also be documenting any natural predators of it that we find. All of this information will be helpful as a preliminary step in setting up further research on knapweed in the future.

Since the training, I’ve still been keeping busy working on other things as I have traveled to four different sites to count densities and percent cover of various swallow-wort plots set up by the USDA. Two sites were near Aurora, one was on Lake Ontario at Wehle State Park, and the other in Rochester.

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We count the swallow-wort plants larger than ten centimeters and the seedlings smaller than that in each of the four corners of each plot using quadrats of various sizes. At one site, we even got to set up eight new plots–a process which I found really interesting because it’s just another stage of research that I get to witness. One of the best parts of some of that work was that half of it was in the woods! That means nice and cool shade and cover–so opposite of a lot of the field work we do. The downsides: bug-bites and lots of vines and fallen trees to trip over.  Above you see Melissa and Scott counting swallow-wort at the different sites and the white rectangular frame is the quadrat.

Keith Waldron speaking at Musgrave

Last week, we attended a Field Day at Musgrave Research Farm near Aurora. It was interesting to tour the research farm where I have spent so much time this summer working on various projects. We learned about some of the other projects that are being executed there and I was able to see some familiar faces 1405099454647from across the state that I know from previous work in Extension.

     Speaking of Musgrave, this is where the lettuce and galinsoga project is located and due to a lack of rain, we had to water the field by hand–watering 3,520 plants with a liter of water each (‘we’ being a loose term since I only helped with part of it since I wasn’t there the first day. A big shout out goes out to the other girls in the Weed Ecology lab who carried literal metric tons of water onto that field in order to water all of those plants).


I also had the opportunity to travel to Geneva to the Fingerlakes Institute for a PRISM meeting. No, when I say PRISM, I don’t mean a shape or an NSA program. PRISM stands for Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management. There are eight of these PRISMs in New York State that each manage their own region accordingly. It was interesting to be present at the Fingerlakes region PRISM meeting as they discussed species of concern and updated each other on various efforts on invasive species within their region in the areas of aquatic, terrestrial, agriculture, and education and outreach.

Coming up! Don’t miss out on what I report on the Northeastern Weed Science competition that we’re attending next week at PennState and also on Empire Farm Days–a three day adventure talking to the public about our project and knapweed.

Internship with Pedersen Farms


Fertilizer mixer

This is, obviously, my first post and it is a little later than I would have liked it to be. So let’s not waste any time and get down to what I’ve been doing with my life. This summer I have been working on a large, about 1600 acres, vegetable and grain farm in Seneca Castle, NY, which is just outside of Geneva. My job description covers anything from shoveling  hundreds of pounds of chicken litter all the way up to tillage and planting. I began working there in late May right in the middle of the spring rush and it was a rude awakening. I was used to the college schedule: going to bed sometime around midnight and waking up at 8:00 or 9:00 for a day of classes which, at latest, went to 4:30pm. It was a difficult transition to going to bed at 10:00, getting up at 5:30, and working until 7:00 or 8:00pm, just to do the same thing the next day. Even though I had never considered another career other than large-scale vegetable production, I spent a lot of the first week reevaluating my life decisions and considering other careers.


Diatomaceous Earth

Once I got used to the long hours, short sleep, and practically nonexistent social life I was very happy. I was coming into this internship with minimal production experience despite working on my neighbor’s vegetable farm back home for five years and on field crop research for one. Either way there is nothing that can prepare you for farmwork like farmwork. Due to my lack of experience, plus I was the new guy, I started out with a lot of busywork projects like using a loader to move a large pile of peat about 25 feet to the right and smoothing out rough spots on the lawn. As the days past I was put on more applied projects like fertilizing, tilling, planting, an so on.

The owner of the farm, Rick, puts a lot of emphasis on pre-plant fertilizers, many of which are custom mixes mixed right there on the farm with materials including, but not limited to, chicken litter, potash, and gypsum. These were some of the materials which comprised the majority of the mixes, but in addition there were micro nutrients like sulfur, boron, zinc, copper, and diatomaceous earth. The chicken litter, while adding some nutrients, serves largely as a vector for the micro nutrients so the smaller quantities can be spread evenly over the field. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is, in my opinion, one of the more interesting micro nutrients as it serves as a kind of natural insecticide. DE is a floury substance which coats everything, the microscopic components are shaped like fishhooks and are irritants to insects, which helps keep them out of the crop, at least for a while. Each mix is tailored to the specific needs of the field and the crop it is destined for. Some batches may have 300 pounds of sulfur while another may have none. These batches are mixed in an old feed mixer and is measured by weight. One all the ingredients have been added, the fertilizer is mixed and is transferred via conveyor belt to a fertilizer spreader and then to the field in a prescribed quantity.

More Projects

In July at Toluma, a new herd manager, Dylan became part of our team! As I mentioned before, in late May there were some complications with farm staff, and Hadley (the previous apprentice) had to step up as herd manager. Now with Dylan, who came in with lots of previous goat experience, the three of us had time for more daily projects – we could finally start getting to tasks that were impossible to do with just Hadley and me. One of the first things Dylan did when he arrived was set up an organized whiteboard in the barn, with daily & weekly checklists of things that needed to be done (from giving a certain goat certain medication to cleaning the water troughs). This was really nice because after milking in the mornings, I could go check the board and transition quickly into working on another project.

Also! I forgot to mention this, but one morning in mid-June, we found a newborn kid in the barn! She was the most precious, pure white baby. It turned out her mother, Eavesdrop, was among the dry herd, and had somehow gone unnoticed as pregnant (kidding had ended in March!). Eavesdrop also had pretty severe mastitis, so we ended up having to treat her specially, and bottle fed the babe for a few weeks. Eventually the baby became our little helper – she would jump around in the barn while we were cleaning, or dance around the mamas in the milk parlor.

The baby a few days after birth! Mom, Eavesdrop, in the background.

The baby a few days after birth! Mom, Eavesdrop, in the background.

Bottle Feeding

Bottle Feeding

Some other projects I worked on in late July were creating a “Pasture Inventory Sheet” GoogleDoc for the farm. Because we were trying to move towards MIG, it became clear that we needed to be doing a much better job with record keeping. The final document ended up including the following columns: Date In, Date Out, # Days on Field, Paddock, Pasture Name/Location, Season(s) of Use, Soil(s), Slope, Size, Stock #, Stocking Density, Notes, and Photo Point. Tamara had said that she wanted the herd managers to use this daily, but I don’t think they actually ended up using it. I think Dylan had a pretty ingrained system of handwriting his daily notes. Making the document was still useful for me to understand an ideal record keeping system. Over these weeks, I also took milk cultures from our mastitis girls, and brought them to the local vet for testing. The results showed that some of the girls who we considered as having mastitis, actually had very mild cases with somatic cell counts under the specific Masitis level. This was good news!

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