Summer Turf & Nursery Expo

September 12, 2014 in Feature, Lawn and Garden

Extension agent, Dot Abbott and Hagley’s Richard Pratt demonstrate the proper pruning of crape myrtles and hydrangeas

Extension agent, Dot Abbott and Hagley’s Richard Pratt demonstrate the proper pruning of crape myrtles and hydrangeas

The Delaware Nursery & Landscape Association (DNLA) and UD Cooperative Extension joined forces for the Summer Turf & Nursery Expo which was held on August 13th at East Coast Garden Center in Millsboro. More than 140 green industry professionals visited with exhibitors and participated in advanced training classes led by industry professionals and extension staff. Topics covered were as follows:

  • LED Lighting – Maintenance & Troubleshooting
  • Designing with Conifers
  • Container Combinations
  • CNP Plant ID & Their Potential Pest
  • Health Insurance – Understanding Policies and your Options in the New Marketplace
  • Weed ID – A Process of Elimination
  • Winning Plants for the Landscape
  • Proper Pruning of Crepe Myrtles & Hydrangeas

Additional advanced training workshops for green industry personnel will be offered in November and January when the DNLA and UD Cooperative Extension team-up once again for the Ornamental & Turf Workshop (Nov. 19th in Hockessin, DE), and the DE Horticulture Industry Expo & Annual Pesticide Conference (January 28th & 29th in Dover, DE). For further information, contact Valann Budischak

21 named as 2014 Delaware 4-H Hall of Fame laureates

August 29, 2014 in Feature, Kent County, New Castle County

Delaware 4-H Hall of Fame logo
The Delaware 4-H Foundation is pleased to announce the selection of the 2014 class of laureates to the Delaware 4-H Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held on Friday, October 3, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. Tickets for the event will be available to the public beginning August 1 on the State 4-H website and reservations deadline is September 25, 2014. Please join us in congratulating these incredible people who have made Delaware 4-H not only the largest youth development program in the state with 41,000 members yearly, but also the most effective, based on data from the Tufts Study of Positive Youth Development. Following the names of the laureates are pictures from the inaugural 2012 Hall of Fame Ceremony.


2014 Laureates (in alphabetical order)

Frances Clinton* and Earl Clinton* – Kent County

H. Wallace Cook, Jr. (Hap) – New Castle County

H. Wallace Cook, Sr. (Wallace)* – New Castle County

Susan Benson Cox* – Kent County

Jane Everline* – Kent County

Lola Gibbs* – Kent County

Betty Lou Gooden* – Kent County

Jay Hukill – Sussex County

Carlene Jones – Sussex County

Ruth Ann Messick and Robert Messick* – Kent County

Frances Millman* – Sussex County

Sally Moller* – Kent County

Patricia Shaffer* – New Castle County

Barbara Taylor* – Sussex County

Grace V. Tinley* – Kent County

William (Bill) and Ellen Vanderwende – Sussex County

Carole Vincent – Sussex County

Betty Jo (BJ) Van Kavelaar – Kent County

* Deceased

Enjoy these photos from the first Delaware 4-H Hall of Fame ceremony in 2012:




Planning and Executing a Winning Tailgate Party

August 29, 2014 in Family and Consumer Sciences, Feature

tailgateEvery football fan knows that an unbeaten football team needs a powerhouse offense and a great defense.  Likewise, a successful tailgate party requires offensive moves to defend against harmful microbes that cause foodborne illness.  What are these offensive moves?

Keep Foods Cold

  • Keep cold perishable foods in an insulated cooler with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or another cold source.  Cold items should be held at 40°F or below in a cooler.  Use a refrigerator thermometer in your cooler to monitor the temperature.
  • Pack foods in your cooler in reverse-use order, which means packing foods first that you are likely to use last.  Remember to securely package raw meat and poultry to prevent cross-contamination with other items.  Or better yet, use a separate cooler for raw meat and poultry items.
  • Keep drinks in a separate cooler from foods.  Beverage coolers are opened frequently while the food cooler stays cold.
  • When traveling, transport the cooler in the coolest part of your vehicle.  Although the outside temperature may be quite cold, sunshine will heat up the trunk so it may not be the best place for the cooler.  Remember to keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.

Keep Food Hot

  • To keep home prepared foods like sloppy joes or chili hot, insulated thermos containers work well.  Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty, and fill with hot food.
  • If electricity is available on site or you have an auto converter, slow cookers are an option for keeping hot foods hot.  To retain heat, keep the cover on the slow cooker until serving.
  • Hot foods should be held at 140°F or above.  Use a food thermometer to monitor the temperature.  Be sure to clean the thermometer after each use.
  • When grilling, the only safe way to determine doneness is to use a calibrated food thermometer.  When cooking meat, check the temperature in the thickest part, avoiding bone, fat and gristle.  Reaching a safe minimum internal temperature ensures that harmful bacteria will be destroyed.  These temperature are
All poultry (whole, parts, ground) 165 °F
Ground meats (beef, pork, lamb) 160 °F
Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, roasts, and chops 145 °F
Hot dogs and bratwursts 165 °F
All reheated items 165 °F


  • Grilled food can be kept hot until serving by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals to avoid overcooking.
  • When bringing food to a tailgate, do not partially cook meats and finish cooking on the grill.  Partially cooked meats are at increased risk for bacterial growth.
  • Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit out for more than two hours before putting them in the cooler (one hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).

Keep Food (And Everything Around It) Clean

  • Prevent cross-contamination by using clean utensils and platters for cooked food.  Never put cooked food on the same plate that held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.  Prepare a tailgate handwashing station by bringing water, soap and paper towels.  Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes will work in a pinch, but they are not as effective at removing dirt and bacteria from hands.
  • Be sure to clean food-contact surfaces with water and soap or with disinfecting spray or wipes.

To celebrate a victory, bring non-perishable snacks for after the game, so you aren’t tempted to eat perishable food that has been sitting out for two or more hours.  You may experience the agony of defeat, by eating perishable food prepared when you arrived at the game unless it has been kept hot (140°F or above) or cold (40°F or below).

Fruit and Vegetable Open House – August 21, 2014

August 12, 2014 in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Feature, Kent County, Kent County Slideshow

Watermelons and lima beans will be featured among many other topics

Watermelons and lima beans will be featured among many other topics

Join the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension members of the agricultural community to see and hear about many of the UD’s Extension Vegetable and Fruit Program’s field research projects from the 2014 season. The program will be held on Thursday, August 21, 2014, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway in Georgetown. Program highlights:

  • Watermelons: seedless variety trial, pollenizers, growth regulators, compost, irrigation, root stocks, hollow heart
  • Sweet Corn: processing corn nitrogen, tillage trials
  • Lima Beans: tillage, stress mitigation, rhizobium inoculants, regrowth cropping, variety evaluation and breeding for pole, Fordhook and baby lima types will be discussedPickles: parthenocarpic and gynoecious variety trials
  • Other: onion variety trials, zucchini variety trials
  • Fruit: blueberries, grapes, blackberries

We will also have graduate students on hand to discuss their research in these areas: Phytophthora capsici in lima beans, root knot nematodes in lima beans, and watermelon fruit set.

Dinner featuring local produce will be served. This program is sponsored by the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware. Please pre-register by contacting Karen Adams at 302-856-2585 ext 540.

New programs in Integrated Pest Management

August 8, 2014 in Feature, Lawn and Garden

Parasitized tomato hornworm

Parasitized tomato hornworm

A recent publication found that few homeowners know or understand the term IPM, and another publication found homeowners were unaware of what cooperative extension is or does. This year we started a couple new education programs for homeowners, school teachers, and green industry professionals.

Integrated pest management (IPM) uses the current knowledge of pest biology and the interaction with the environment to manage pest populations and their damage by the most economical means possible with a variety of techniques that minimizes hazards to people or the environment. The most common methods available to manage insect populations include: mechanical or physical removal of pests, cultural, biological, and chemical control tactics. Cultural control practices involve knowledge of the plants and where they would grow the best. Biological control tactics rely on existing beneficial insects to feed on pests and chemical control uses pesticides. The new programs focus education efforts towards Future Farmers of America (FFA) teachers, green industry professionals and the general public.

Allison Wagner searching for insects on a squash plant

Allison Wagner, Extension Scholar, searching for insects on a squash plant

The new program designed to provide new information about IPM to Future Farmers of America teachers occurs during the summer and fall. This group of workshops discusses a variety of pests and the potential biological control agents available to manage them. The greenhouse workshop also provides network opportunities between FFA teachers and green industry professionals.

The “Morning with an Expert” is a new program that provides homeowners with opportunities to ask insect or disease questions to cooperative extension specialist and agents in each county. The next event is scheduled on 27 August 2014 at 5:30 pm at Brandywine Garden located at 12th and Brandywine in Wilmington, DE. This event also will demonstrate the use of companion plants in an urban garden. Beneficial insects will be discussed and on display at the evening workshop. A goal of this program is to increase homeowner tolerance of insects and awareness of cooperative extension in Delaware.

The urban gardening project combines the use of herbs or common flower garden plants such as chrysanthemums with garden vegetables. One goal of this project is to increase the number of naturally occurring insect predators and parasitoids in vegetable gardens to reduce the number of pest insects. Another goal is to increase homeowner awareness of alternative methods to manage insect populations other than using insecticides. This new project also increases the chance for the general public to interact with and ask questions to cooperative extension personnel.

Healthy Habits and Routines Can Take the “Crunch” Out of the Morning Rush

July 29, 2014 in Family and Consumer Sciences, Feature

Finnegan Stephan, age 5, making banana bread.

Finnegan Stephan, age 5, making banana bread.

Want to cut hassles and make it easier for everyone to get off to a great start every day?   Here are some tips for great starts and happy endings.

Find a routine that works for you and your family.  Children thrive on routines. They like knowing what comes next.  A lot of hassles are eliminated when you avoid arguments about what time to go to bed and when to be dressed for school.  Routines take a lot of the stress and “chaos” away. Things can be calmer and more relaxed.

    • Set regular times for family meals, snacks,  reading (and story time) and bedtimes.
    • Plan evening routines that assure that everyone will get the amount of sleep that is just right for them.  The right amount of sleep makes our brains work better —  and makes it easier for us to learn and remember.  Aim for a calming evening routine that can get everyone in the perfect mood for good sleep
  • Infants and toddlers need about 10 hours of sleep at night, plus 3 or more hours of naps
  • School-age children need 9-11 hours    (Teens need as much sleep as toddlers!)
  • Adults need 7-8 hours
    • Checklists can be cool!  Have each child make a list of the things he or she needs to do every morning and evening. The morning list might include: Get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, make bed, pack lunch, feed dog.  Ask your child to check things off their list.
    • Build on your natural energy cycles.   People are not machines.  We’re not built to go “full tilt” from dawn to dusk.   We work best when we have periods of activity and then periods of rest and relaxation.  When you reach those times in the day when you are too tired, don’t feel guilty about not being the “perfect parent.”  None of us are. Tell your child about your lack of energy and your need to have some time to relax before you can get back to moving again.

Here are some things to consider as you “tune up” your routines:

  •  Plan time for a daily dose of quality time – a relaxed time when you can talk and really listen to each other.    Story time before bed is a natural time for getting close and snuggling.  Happy family meals make kids feel loved and connected.
    • Use this “quality time” to talk with your child. Share experiences. Accent the positive. Your child will learn key social skills — like talking and listening.
    • Enjoy each other’s company. Avoid complaining and criticizing.
Braeden Mannering, age 10, helping cook dinner.

Braeden Mannering, age 10, helping cook dinner.

  • Help everyone find daily physical activities they enjoy.  Being active makes us feel good- – and our brains work better!
    • Build activity into your routines with family chores and family walks.
    • Think up ways to have active family fun.  Family fun times are like “family glue.”
    • Limit screen time for everyone in the family to less than 2 hours a day.  Avoid screen time for children under two.  No TVs or computers in bedrooms.  Limit children’s exposure to advertising.  Children will want what is advertised – whether it is healthy or not.
    • Make it “hard” to turn on the TV and easy and fun to move.
  • What will it take for everyone to look and feel good in their clothes?
    • Looking good and feeling good in the clothes you are wearing can help you act your best.
    • Sturdy, easy-care, mix and match clothes can allow kids to pick their own outfits – and they will nearly always look great.  Save money by choosing mix and match clothes that will allow lots of possible combinations.
  • Make a “launching pad” near the door where family members can place their books and other items to be taken to work or school. Get everyone in the habit of checking the launching pad before leaving the house.
    • When it’s time for the first person in the family to leave each morning, call a quick family group hug at the “launching pad.” It’s a great way to get launched each day!
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Celebrating 100 years of extending knowledge, changing lives

July 29, 2014 in Feature

A lot can change in 100 years. That is especially true when it comes to Cooperative Extension.

It was with that in mind, and with an eye toward the future, that members of the Delaware community gathered on Thursday, July 24, at the Grove Picnic Area at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Cooperative Extension.

Cooperative Extension was established across the country in 1914 with passage of the Smith-Lever Act, which enabled Extension agents to disseminate critical knowledge developed at land grant colleges, including the University of Delaware, to farmers and to the public.

Addressing how far Cooperative Extension has come in its 100 years, Gov. Jack Markell said, “I think the founders of Cooperative Extension would be amazed at what it is today.”

Markell noted how Cooperative Extension now has an office at every land grant institution, in every county of every state and territory, with a total of more than 3,000 locations.

“Its mission in the 21st century is AG-Cooperative_Extension_Centennial_Celebrationinclusive. Extending knowledge, changing lives. It’s been a really important part of the Delaware community now for 100 years, increasing the quality of life for citizens throughout our state,” said Markell.

Reflecting on how Cooperative Extension influenced his life personally, Markell noted how he lived in Newark’s Windy Hills neighborhood as a neighbor to Extension agent Dean Belt and his wife Peggy Belt and that he “grew up thinking that Cooperative Extension was Dean Belt and Dean Belt was Cooperative Extension, and I didn’t know that it actually applied in other states and others schools.”

Saying that Belt knew more about agriculture than everyone else he knew combined, Markell said, “The Belts were really positive influences on my life and I always look forward to seeing them. These are just extraordinary, extraordinary people who set the standard for what Cooperative Extension is and ought to be across the country.”

Mark Rieger, dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), spoke next and reflected on how much Extension has changed over 100 years.

“I was driving down here today and I was reflecting on if I were a county agent coming from the University of Delaware in Newark 100 years ago, I wouldn’t be in a Nissan Altima, I’d probably be in a horse and buggy or coming on horseback. It would probably take me the better part of a week to come from that University to this area to see farmers and to make my way around and make my way back home  — and that’s what those people did 100 years ago. They got out, they extended that knowledge from the University to the people that could use it under some really difficult conditions,” said Rieger.

Rieger talked about how farmers now use smartphone apps and are able to diagnose problems in the field in real time and how, in the future, there may be flying drones used over fields and farmers may be equipped with the ability to get a snapshot of photosynthesis as it’s happening.

“The means have changed but the mission has stayed the same over those 100 years. So I’m really excited about the future of Extension and all the new things that we’re going to get to do,” said Rieger, who also touched on how the people of the world are going to need to use that technology in order to find ways to feed the estimated nine billion people who will be on the planet in the next 30 years or so.

AG-Cooperative_Extension_Centennial_Celebration“We cannot continue to cut down more forests to open up land for agriculture, we’ve got to increase the yields on the land that we have and the way we’re going to do that is with good science, good technology and extending that science through Extension out to the growers. So I’m confident that UD and Delaware State University Extension will rise to the occasion and deliver on that grand challenge of feeding the world and protecting the planet,” said Rieger.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean for Cooperative Extension in CANR, spoke next, joined on the podium by Albert Essel, associate dean for Cooperative Extension at Delaware State University.

Rodgers spoke about how in Delaware, there are two universities — UD and DSU — that form Cooperative Extension and “it’s our pleasure to work together to bring Cooperative Extension to you for 100 years worth of Cooperative Extension.”

Rodgers, who has familial Cooperative Extension roots dating back 100 years and whose parents met through 4-H, thanked all the legislators in attendance and explained how their support is critical to the continuation of Cooperative Extension services.

“We’re very much like a family in Cooperative Extension — our retirees, those who we partner with, it is a cooperative and it’s in the name for a purpose and it’s because we do cooperate so well with each other. It’s a very meaningful part,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers then recognized all the staff members, both past and present, and the volunteers who make Cooperative Extension a success.

“Cooperative Extension individuals are very giving, very caring, very compassionate people who really care about communities and the people in them,” she said. “It is our pleasure as directors to work with this group of people who give so much of themselves to the community and to celebrate this centennial event with you. I just thank you for our past, I thank you for our present and I am very excited about our future and the next 100 years and what we’re going to do.”

The event concluded with the unveiling of a Cooperative Extension Centennial flavored ice cream from the University’s UDairy Creamery as part of a flavor contest.

The winning flavor, Centennial Cherry Chunk, was submitted by Joyce Witte, who was presented with a gift certificate for coming up with the winning flavor. Rodgers joked that Witte can now “eat as much Centennial ice cream as you like.”

For more information about the Cooperative Extension Centennial, visit the website.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Evan Krape

Small fruits for Delaware focus of Georgetown meeting

July 11, 2014 in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Feature


people watching a presentation

Approximately 40 local Delaware growers attend small fruit meeting in Georgetown

On a rainy Thursday, July 10, approximately 40 local Delaware growers attended a Small Fruit Educational Tour at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown to learn best practices on growing blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and grapes in the First State. Among the group, interest in growing certain fruits was evenly divided among each of the small fruit.

Rainy weather changed a planned outside tour into a virtual one – but real live blueberries and blackberries, harvested at their peak, were plentiful for evaluations on taste and appearance. Feedback from growers is an important component to the ongoing research and recommendations UD Extension researchers will make to farmers about which small fruits might be suitable as a commercial crop in Delaware. Additionally, Extension research hopes to offer an expanded growing season with these specialty fruit crop varieties.

Blueberries on dishes on table

15 varieties were available to taste and rated on “sweet.” “sour,” “fruity,” “mild/bland,” and “earthy” characteristics

Twenty five varieties of blueberries are now being evaluated as part of two ongoing trials, at Carvel REC and Bennett Orchards in Frankford, Del. through a Specialty Crop Block Grant administered through the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

“Blueberries are a challenging crop to grow,” said Gordon Johnson, Extension fruit and vegetable specialist. Johnson said the fruit is native to southern New Jersey and prefers soils in the Pine Barrens region.  Growing blueberries in Delaware requires a 2-3 year initial commitment from Delaware growers to recreate the sandy, organic conditions that are native to New Jersey’s soil – soil in which blueberries thrive.  To grow blueberries successfully in the First State the following conditions must be met:

  • Acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5 pH. “This doesn’t happen overnight,” Johnson said. “It takes a half year to a full year to get it right and it is a grower’s biggest hurdle.”
  • High organic soil is needed.  Commercial compost is alkaline and should not be used. Planting a cover crop and tilling is helpful, Johnson said.
  • Adding soil amendments like pine bark fines helps.
  • Peat moss in the planting hole makes a big difference. “This is a must have,” Johnson said. “Otherwise the plant will not take off.”
  • Blueberry plant roots do not tolerate heat and must be mulched.   Mulch should not raise the pH.
  • Drip irrigation. Blueberries require consistently moist soil
Growers at UD's Small Fruit Meeting evaluate the taste and appearance of blueberries and blackberries

Growers at UD’s Small Fruit Meeting evaluate the taste and appearance of blueberries and blackberries

Emmalea Ernest, associate scientist for fruit and vegetable crops reviewed second-year results of various blueberry varieties, calling out the names of blueberries in the trial that did well in the Georgetown research farm, and which showed little or no freeze damage, and produced plump, tasty fruit. Legacy was her favorite, Ernest told the audience, with Lenoir and Chandler also showing great potential. But taste preferences are subjective, so Ernest wanted other feedback – important in making final recommendations when the trial is complete.

Lenoir blueberry bush

One of 25 blueberry bushes grown on Carvel’s research farm, Lenoir rated well in overall tests Photo:E.Ernest

With clipboards in hand, guests sampled more than 15 varieties of blueberries, identified only by a number. At another table, named varieties were in clear cups so that they could be rated on their size and attractiveness.

The group seemed to concur with Ernest, giving Legacy, Lenoir and Chandler high marks. Two others, Star and Hannah’s Choice also scored praise. A small minority preferred the tart Reka variety. A winning blueberry, however, may not be perfect for all purposes.

“Chandler is really an enormous fruit,” Ernest remarked. “They would be ideal for U-Pick customers. Baskets would fill up quickly,” she said. “But it might be too big for muffins or pancakes.” Chandler is also not a high yielding variety overall.

presentation screen of insect

University of Delaware IPM Specialist Joanne Whalen explains the potential threat of Spotted Wing Drosophila

The meeting also highlighted the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in small fruit crops. IPM Specialist Joanne Whalen addressed the threat of the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a troublesome fruitfly that Whalen is carefully monitoring throughout Delaware. The small insect lays its eggs inside the fruit which will swell noticeably once infested.  “It has the potential to be a really scary bug,” said Whalen.  A serious threat in New Jersey, Whalen is curious to know what other growers are seeing and is interested in setting up monitoring projects.

Whalen and her team set up various traps with pheromones, or a cocktail comprised of 40 percent Merlot wine and 60 percent apple cider vinegar to attract any Spotted Wings that might be in the growing area. Whalen said only the males have spots on their wings. Whalen advised the growers to consider removing any wild berries or wild cherry growth from the perimeter of their plots. “Wild pokeberries, wild cherries and even honeysuckle are indicators that Spotted Wing Drosophila could be a problem, Whalen said.

Gordon Johnson also produced yield results data on primocane (fall-season) fruiting blackberries and produced seven varieties for taste and appearance evaluation.  Primocane fruiting blackberries offer the potential for extended production for growers, Johnson said, suitable at farmers markets, schools and institution, local restaurants and wholesale outlets. One variety, Ark 45, produced 16,000 pounds per acre (floricane or summer producing) in 2013 with an additional 6,000 pounds per acre on primocanes in the fall, according to handouts shared at the meeting. “The dual production system on both floricanes and primocanes is promising for extended production over an 18-20 week season from June through October,” Johnson  writes.  Johnson acknowledged that there is “heavy pressure from Spotted Wing Drosophila in 2013 with this extended production.”

For more information visit the University of Delaware’s Small Fruit and Vegetable program website.

Photos and article by Michele Walfred


UD Irrigation Field Day – Wednesday, August 20, 2014

July 11, 2014 in Cooperative Extension Scholars, Feature, Kent County, Kent County Slideshow

Visitors at UD Warrington Farm hear a presentation about subsurface irrigation in 2012

Visitors at UD Warrington Farm hear a presentation about subsurface irrigation in 2012

The University of Delaware College of Agriculture & Natural Resources and Delaware Cooperative Extension will hold an Irrigation Field Day on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 10 a.m. at the Warrington Irrigation Research Farm located on the corners of Route 5 and DE 290 Cool Spring Road/Hurdle Ditch Road, just 4 miles south of Harbeson, Del. (Signs will be posted.) Link to Google Map  The program will last approximately two hours.

The program invites farmers, industry professionals and the general public to tour UD’s Warrington Irrigation Research Farm. UD personnel will be sharing their latest irrigation research findings

  • Irrigated Corn, Wheat, Full Season and Double Crop  Soybean Irrigation Research Plots
  • Experiences with Subsurface Drip Irrigation for Agronomic Crops (SDI)
  • Soil Moisture Monitoring as a Tool to Refine Irrigation Management
  • Variable Rate Center Pivot Irrigation (VRI)

For more information contact Karen Adams at 302-856-2585 ext.  540

Research Sponsored by DNREC, Delaware Soybean Board, MD Grain Producers, NRCS and Vincent Farms. This event replaces a previously advertised date of Sept. 19.

What’s the buzz on seedless watermelons? It’s all about pollen say UD researchers

June 16, 2014 in Feature

If you are looking for a watermelon seed spitting contest this summer, you might be out of luck!

siefrit and johnson kneeling by watermelon row

UD grad student Donald Seifrit, Jr. and Gordon Johnson, fruit and vegetable Extension specialist conduct seedless watermelon pollination trials

Most Delawareans, like the rest of Americans, prefer their watermelons seedless-a trend that began to take hold in this country about 10 years ago.

round watermelon

Fascination, a popular seedless watermelon variety in Delaware

Super Seedless-7187, a popular seedless watermelon grown in Delaware

Super Seedless-7187, a popular seedless watermelon grown in Delaware

Gordon Johnson, Extension vegetable and fruit specialist and UD graduate student Donald Seifrit, Jr. are helping growers meet that demand.

They are beginning the first year of a two year trial to examine 24 pollination companions for two popular seedless watermelon varieties, Fascination and SS-7187 (SS = super seedless), grown in Delaware. MarDel Watermelon Association provides funding support for the study. Seifrit’s stipend is made possible by a specialty crop block grant from the Delaware Department of Agriculture and USDA.

In order to grow the seedless watermelons preferred by the public, a seeded ‘pollenizer’ watermelon with male flowers must be a companion to the seedless plants, whose pollen is not viable. For this study, one male watermelon plant is paired alongside three seedless plants. “The pollen to produce a seedless watermelon has to come from a seeded plant” Johnson said.

Johnson and Seifert will seek to determine what affects pollination, and observe which pollenizer varieties attract more bees, all of which in turn might increase or influence fruit set.

Eight rows of the summer fruit, with their tendrils spanning across neat rows covered in black plastic, are spread out over a four-acre research plot. Space between the watermelon rows is an important barrier so that pollen-seeking bees won’t jump to another row and another varietal source of pollen. Bees tend to fly along the rows however. With the watermelons rows effectively isolated, bee preferences can be observed with a “high probability of accuracy.” Non-pollen sources are also planted in between the watermelon rows to further isolate the pollen movement and preserve the integrity of the observations.

Johnson and Seifert brought in six hives to pollinate the crop.  Wild bees also help pollinate. As the bees travel up the rows, Johnson and Seifert will record the bee’s patterns. “A plant with more pollen and better nutrition will attract more bees.” Johnson said. After the trial studies are complete, Johnson will make the results available to area growers, who can adapt the research to obtain better pollination, fruit set and yields.

rows of watermelon plants

Two seedless watermelon plants are matched with one of 24 seeded varieties, needed for pollination

Watermelons grown on the eastern shore come to local market in time for the Fourth of July holiday. Watermelon availability begins in the southern states and moves up the East Coast as spring turns to summer, Johnson said. Watermelons consumed over the Memorial Day weekend, likely came from Florida, Johnson said.

For Delaware farmers, watermelons are an important crop and livelihood. Together as part of the Eastern Shore region, approximately 5,000 acres are devoted to growing watermelons. Together with Indiana, Delmarva farmers produce the majority of watermelons that are consumed on the East Coast from mid-July to Labor Day.

Johnson is looking to improve early fruit set for local growers. That means more local watermelons for consumers and better profits for growers. “The earlier the fruit set, the better,” Johnson explained.

“Typically, you get two watermelons per plant at any time,” Johnson said. “If it is really good, we will get three.”

“The other things we are looking at are the environmental effects on pollen viability. As the plants mature, Seifrit will also test their sweetness and firmness levels.

“We are trying to find out ways to improve fruit set in general and early fruit set in particular,” Johnson said. “We’re looking for the best combinations of pollinators for early set.

Watermelons are an expensive crop to grow, Johnson remarked. An earlier fruit set improves a farmer’s return on their investment.

Watermelons are a native desert plant, Johnson said. “They like heat and tolerate dry conditions, but to obtain good yields, farmers must irrigate well.” Watermelon crops require rotation and careful monitoring. As members of the Cucurbitaceae family that grow at ground level, they are more prone to pests and diseases than other crops. To grow successfully, farmers must invest in apiaries. Some growers use bumble bees, but honey bees are more common, Johnson said.

Siefrit is exploring the possibilities of obtaining special bee video gear in order to better track bee preferences and behavior.

Unsuccessful pollination can result in other problems.

In earlier studies, Johnson and his team made a discovery – the mechanism for Hollow Heart, a condition that leaves the core of the watermelon fruit hollow. “We haven’t had much of a problem here in Delaware, because of all the varieties, but other states have had bad problems,”Johnson added. “We are pretty convinced it is a lack of pollen, or incomplete pollination. Don is taking that research to the next level – cutting open baby watermelons and counting cells.” Johnson said.

“We are looking what affects pollen – if it is cold, if bee flight is down or if there is a loss of bees,” Johnson said. Logistics is important too, Johnson added. Growers must coordinate planting pollenizers with their seedless plants. If the seedless varieties are more long in shape, the seedless watermelons will need to be round in shape, and vice versa. This helps to tell them apart as they go to harvest.

Johnson said most requests for seeded watermelons in Delmarva come from new ethnic populations and “seeded watermelons are what they are used to.”

“The rest of the world, with the exception of Japan and some production in southern Europe, really prefers seeded varieties,” Johnson remarked. ” Eighty percent of the world’s watermelon crop is seeded.” But in Delaware, 90 percent of the watermelons grown are seedless.”

>>>Information on UD Extension’s Small Fruit and Educational Tour – July 10, 2014

Article by Michele Walfred
Photos by Jackie Arpie