Spring Update for the NC Alternative Crops and Organics Program

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cover crops emerging in field

Cover crops emerging in the organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC.

5/18/2021 – It is a beautiful spring in western NC and our field research is in full swing once again. The Eastern Broccoli Project, a USDA/SCRI funded project that involves researchers from Maine to Florida, is entering it’s 11th and final year. We have the largest field of broccoli that we have ever had at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. Margaret Bloomquist is leading this effort. In the past, all the broccoli test plots were coded so visitors (and researchers) couldn’t tell what was what, but this year the varieties and many of the breeding lines will be clearly marked so you can tell what you are looking at!

young broccoli plants growing on raised beds with white plastic mulch

The first planting of broccoli is in the field at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC.

The hops breeding program, led by Dr. Luping Qu, is making great progress. Two of his advanced breeding lines are being planted in large on-farm trials in Mocksville and Pittsboro this year.

People planting hops by hand

Planting the on-farm hop trial in Mocksville, NC.

A new research hop yard has also been established at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River to test these new breeding lines. You will be able to visit this at a field day this summer.

newly established hop yard

The new hop yard on the research station in Mills River, NC.

Truffle research continues at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville under the watchful eye of research assistant and graduate student, Katie Learn. We tried a big new experiment this year; we cut our oldest filbert orchard to the ground and are letting it regrow in an attempt to gain better control over Eastern Filbert Blight. Growers were interested in whether this would work or not, so we are giving it a go!

woman looking at leaves on filbert trees

Checking the filbert trees in the truffle orchard for insects and disease.

We will have extensive hemp studies planned for this year, many in cooperation with Dr. David Suchoff in eastern North Carolina. We will have floral hemp variety trials across the state (we are responsible for the one in western NC), floral hemp planting date x harvest date studies on the research stations in Mills River and Salisbury, a floral hemp drying study in Mills River, and a fiber variety demonstration in Waynesville. Margaret Bloomquist leads this effort.

man seeding flats with hemp seed

Seeding out floral hemp varieties in the greenhouse in Mills River, NC.

Our woodland botanicals efforts are also in full-swing. We had a wonderful stand of ramps and bloodroot early this spring, and the ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh, false unicorn, Solomon’s seal, and more are growing nicely under the watchful eye of Margaret Bloomquist. Look for updates for the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition and the WNC Medicinal Herb Growers.

young ginseng plant

One of the first ginseng plants that emerged this spring.

In a few weeks, we will also be posting about the two organic tomato studies we are involved in. One is a multi-state project to breed tomatoes for organic farmers and the other, led by Dr. Dilip Panthee is comparing some new breeding material in organic and conventional growing systems to examine disease resistance and various quality factors.

people looking at research tomato trials

People looking at organic tomato trials in Waynesville in 2017 (or was it 2018?).