Blog Posts

Tank Mixing with Biologicals

I am not promoting one company over any other companies, but I think the YouTube video of Rob Gibson’s talk at the Bio Controls Conference is excellent and worth a watch as we get into organic spray season.

As Rob talks about in the video, there can be issues with water pH, physical or chemical incompatibility or a host of other issues that can crop up with tank mixes. It is an 18-minute presentation, not much time compared to cleaning out a gunky mess in your lines or maybe a final spray that doesn’t even work because of an issue with your solution. Sometimes our organic products get negative reviews when the real issue is how we mixed the spray solution and not the products in the spray solution!

Scale on Pecan?

It is not fun to write about a problem that has not been a problem! This picture was taken by David Schwegman in his orchard north of Georgetown. He showed me pictures of scale on some limbs he took earlier in the year when I spoke at the San Saba Pecan Field Day. Since then, he has more pictures and according to his email he is now seeing the immature “crawlers” as the young scale insects hatch and begin moving to a new location on the limb. I thought this was obscure scale, but others think it may be lecanium scale.

This might not be such a worry except that David is finding it more and more. Also, I am getting reports from other orchard owners finding scale on pecan limbs in their orchards. So, is this becoming a problem for pecan growers? Maybe, or maybe this is just one of those isolated issues that we occasionally see. Either way it is important to be scouting, especially when trees are bare (winter), and the scale is easy to see.

Organic treatments are dormant oils in winter, when there are no leaves, or now with Certis Biologicals Des-X or Sil-Matrix, Marrone Bio’s Venerate or Grandevo, and/or possibly some of the botanical organic oils (cinnamon, garlic, thyme, etc.). Be sure to spray a limb or two in the afternoon heat first before treating the whole orchard with anything that has an oil or soap base. Shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to see if it affects the green leaves in the heat!

Can you grow raspberries in Texas?

If you have lived in Texas very long you will learn that you can’t grow raspberries here! They struggle with our hot summers, both heat and intense sunlight are tough! I know, I have tried…

That was the way of thinking till Jacy Lewis, Program Manager at the Extension Viticulture and Sustainable Fruit Applied Research Program in Fredericksburg began to experiment with a very different environment for raspberry growing. For the last couple of years, she has looked at many different varieties grown under 3 different colors of shade cloth.

The experiment is continuing but so far, the fruit has outstanding flavor with intense sweetness, yields are good, and the plants are doing very well. Most raspberry plants, Dorman Red is the most recommended, perform very poorly and eventually just die. These plants are doing just the opposite with good fruit set, great limb growth and lots of vigor. The experimental shade cloth colors are red, black and white and so far, the red is looking slightly better, but the experiment is far from over.

Organic growers pay attention! There are very little disease or insect issues growing raspberries and they love organic fertilizers. The organic market for raspberries is $3 for conventional 6-ounce packages and $5 for organic 6-ounce packages. My sources say they can sell all the organic they can get!

Budding and Grafting Pecans, What Is It?

Figure 1. A “graft” where a new variety is “grafted” or added to the established tree in an orchard.

Most people don’t have a clue what budding, or grafting is or if they do, don’t know why we do it! I can sure understand this since most of the reproduction in the world on the human side is not asexual it is sexual.

Wow! How did we go from budding and grafting to SEX? Well in budding and grafting we bypass the typical crossing of a male and a female to produce offspring by using either “budding or grafting” a portion of the plant we want (a new pecan variety) onto the same type of plant (an old pecan variety).

For instance, in pecan trees the nut that is produced can be planted by a squirrel and grow up into a big, beautiful pecan tree but the nuts on that tree may not resemble the planted nut at all. This is because the nut planted was produced by sexual means. The male pollen (figure 2) was produced on another tree, and it floated on the wind and fell on the pecan tree nutlet (figure 3) of another tree. Once on the flower parts of the nutlet, the male pollen and female nutlet mate and the resulting fruit (pecan nut) now has the genetics of the male crossed with the female to produce a new “child.” As any parent knows our children are not exactly like us! In nature this natural crossing produces what we know as native pecans in the wild or possibly an improved pecan variety if the cross was intended or made by someone to produce a named variety. This crossing process to produce new varieties is not easy!

Figure 2. male catkins that produce pollen

Figure 3. Small nutlets that receive pollen on tip ends with the flower

Now in budding and grafting we bypass this uncertainty by taking a bud or a piece of graftwood with buds from a tree we like and then transfer these buds onto a pecan tree that possibly produces poor quality nuts. This is an asexual method which will eventually produce exactly the pecan nuts we want. This is also used on all our fruit trees as well as our nut trees. Basically, we can use either buds or grafts depending on the tree type, personal preference or tree size. Most nurseries growing small trees use single buds in a method we call “budding” and in established orchards we typically use “grafting” which is placing a small limb with several buds onto a tree limb or even the main trunk as in figure 1.

Having said all this there are still many people who grow pecans, but very few that have ever grafted one! This is the time of year when we do both budding and grafting of pecan trees.  In fact, you may have a local field day in the orchard where a demonstration of both will be given.

Why now?  This is the time of year when we say that the “bark is slipping.”  What we mean is that it is the time of year when water is moving up as the tree is rapidly growing.  This water movement and consequent growth of the tree, leaves and bark, means that the bark can be easily pulled away or slipped.  Because of this slipping we can slide in a pecan bud or “inlay” in a piece of pecan graftwood into a branch or trunk. So, give it a try and see if you grow a new pecan!

Top Ten Strategies for Survival with Forage

Kleingrass Pasture

Dr. Larry Redmon was the featured speaker at a Livestock Forage Seminar a few years back when we were having another one of our periodic droughts!  Dr. Redmon is an Extension Forage Specialist and has been for many years.  Basically, he has lots of experience meaning he has about seen it all!!   Certainly Dr. Redmon has been through a number of droughts and even though this one now is severe, basically there is always one thing you can count on in a drought – forage is scarce.  Knowing this Dr. Redmon shared his Top Ten List with the group, and it works now…

Number one – Have a plan.  I visit with lots of livestock producers and still I am amazed at how few have any idea what to do.  Even if raising livestock is not a full-time occupation still it is important to know where you are going. 

Number two – soil test to know what you have.  With the very high cost of fertilizers (organic or conventional), it is important to know what you have in the soil and what you might need to buy.  A soil test costs $15 and will probably save you hundreds.

Number three – practice good weed and insect control.  I am a real believer in weed control since every pound of weeds controlled means at least one pound of extra grass and many times 3 or 4 pounds. Organic growers must use their cattle to mob graze weeds early and do it often.  The insects to control are grasshoppers and armyworms.  Both are not hard to control if caught early which means you should be walking your pastures often.  We have several organic sprays that work well.

Number four – consider alternative fertilizers.  It may not be feasible for all producers, but some may have access to poultry litter, cattle manure, even biosolids.  These can be less expensive but only if shipping and application doesn’t cost too much. (Organic growers understand this but also consider supplementing your manure with beneficial microbes to stimulate natural nitrogen cycling.)

Number five – consider forage legumes in grazing pastures.  This is a long shot since legumes do well here some years and others they don’t even come up.  Legumes can do well when we get fall rains but  in years like this, we never see them grow. 

Number six – evaluate your stocking rate!!  This is the most important part of drought management.  A livestock producers best friend is the stock trailer in a drought but unfortunately no one wants to sell a single animal believing instead that they can make it.  Ideally no range or pasture should be stocked above 70% of its capacity always leaving forage for years like this.  Instead, livestock producers think the good years are the ones that determine stocking rate when in fact we live in Texas where droughts are more common than rain.  What causes overstocking?  Larger cattle, weeds and brush taking over pastures, not fertilizing, not selling!

Number seven – purchase hay rather than produce it.  Unless you have lots of hay pastures you cannot justify owning hay equipment.

Number eight – analyze your hay for nutritive content.  Sometimes producers overestimate their hay quality and animal performance suffers but definitely you can save on supplements if your hay is higher in quality.

Number nine – consider stockpiling forage for winter feeding.  This is not a new concept, but I do believe one that has been forgotten.  Basically, you take a pasture that has been grazed short and close the gate by September 1st.   Fertilize it like you are growing hay and don’t turn the cattle in till you are ready to start feeding hay.  This standing forage is high in nutrition and certainly cheaper than baled hay.

Number ten – consider your forage base.  This last one has to do with considering native grasses versus bermudagrasses that need to be fertilized.  Dr. Redmon took the group through a few scenarios based on commonly accepted stocking rates for bermudagrass and native pastures.  It does take more acres per animal unit for native pastures, but you save on the cost of fertilizer.  For example, if you have 300 acres and it takes 12 acres per animal unit for native and 5 for bermudagrass then you have 25 cows on the native and 60 cows on the bermudagrass.  If both have an average weaning percentage of 90% then you have 23 calves produced on the native and 54 on the bermudagrass.  At $1,000 per calf that is $23,000 income on the native and $54,000 on the bermudagrass – quite a difference!    Now subtract $400 per cow per year for maintenance costs or $10,000 on the native and $24,000 on the bermudagrass leaving $13,000 for the native and $30,000 for the bermudagrass.  Now let’s subtract the $100 per acre for the fertilizer cost (organic or conventional are about the same this year).  $0 for the native and $30,000 for the bermudagrass pasture leaving $13,000 income for the native and, you guessed it, $0 for the bermudagrass!  If you don’t like these numbers just change them but it will be hard to beat the native grass.  Why? Natives are adapted to produce more on less and at a higher nutritional level.

Number eleven? Maybe this is just an addendum instead of an actual number 11! It applies to those who are trying to figure out what grasses to use and I thought it was appropriate to add it.  Dr. Redmon has said this at many of his forage programs and it is even more important with high input prices.  “A point could also be made regarding the use of other introduced forages that require little to no fertilizer under grazing. Examples are Bahiagrass east of IH 35/45; Kleingrass, WW-BDahl Old World bluestem, one of the lovegrasses (weeping, Wilman), others? Just a thought…” 

In Central Texas we have consistently seeded Kleingrass, Wilman, and WW-BDahl mixes with outstanding results. It takes a few years to establish but the cattle seem to love it and the fertilizer costs make it well worth it!

Fruit Tree Problems Now

I think we can blame the drought for causing another problem, terrible insect pressure especially on our fruit trees. Most if not all fruit trees have made it through the winter, and most have survived the drought, if you watered. They have made it through freezes, and most are in bloom or have very small fruit, no small miracle for Texas fruit production! Now after making it through all these weather problems we have to add insects to the list!

Both the brown stink bug and the green stink bug overwinter in grassy areas and under brush or wood. They wait for warm weather to come out and begin looking for energy sources to replace lost body reserves and the plant of choice is fruit. The brown stink bug causes the fruit to deform, and the green stink bug causes the fruit to exude a resin or gummy mess that can accumulate on the fruit especially on peaches. Both insects have long snouts that they use to pierce the skin and suck out juices. In the case of the green stink bug this resin attracts wasps and bees so that they get the blame instead of the stink bug. Stink bugs are hard to control especially since they have piercing/sucking mouthparts.

Organic growers have a few choices including some plant oils, but effectiveness is not good many times.  Grandevo and PFR-97 have plant bugs on the label, but I have never seen them in action and a product I know will take care of plant bugs (stink bugs) is Venerate.  Also, there is Pyganic, but it is a last resort even if it is organic!

There is one major peach insect that everyone wants to get rid of, the Plum Curculio. This small worm or grub feeds inside the peach mostly near the seed and can cause anyone who has found one a real heartache. This worm or larva is laid by an adult snout beetle, similar in looks to the oak, pecan, or cotton weevil. This adult overwinters in the soil at the base of the fruit tree and comes out early with the plums and moves to peaches as plums mature early. The adult female will chew a small hole in the fruit skin and lay eggs just under the surface. The eggs hatch into small larva that feed in the fruit for 2 to 4 weeks and of course this is what causes the problems.

To control this insect spray must be made from shuck split (about the time the fruit is formed) and for two applications at two-week intervals and then 30 days before fruit harvest. This last spray is probably the most important since the eggs laid hatch out and the larva are still in the fruit at harvest. Recommended organic sprays include BoteGHA, Mycotrol or Botanigard MAXX all with Beauveria bassiana bacteria, Grandevo with Chromobacterum subtsugae, Venerate with the Burkholderia spp., Surround which is a kaolin clay product, and Pyganic. There is no insecticide to treat the soil with but keeping old fruit off the ground helps prevent next year’s problems. It might be interesting to see if a biological on the soil would help take out the overwintering adults, and if you do and it works let me know.

Another problem some homeowners have complained about is the gummy mess coming out of fruit tree limbs. This gum or resin is caused by a bacterial canker that has infected the limb. This canker develops in the fall and as the trees break dormancy in the spring, gum is formed by the infection and can break through the bark and flow down the tree limb. Stress in trees is the main culprit and treatments are not effective. Keep damaged wood trimmed out and supply water and nutrients to promote tree health.

Last, there is the ever-present issue of Brown Rot.  This disease is caused by four species of Monilinia with the predominant species being M. fructicola and M. laxa. Brown rot fungus has the ability to attack blossoms, fruit, spurs (flower- and fruit-bearing twigs), and small branches under favorable conditions in the spring. Disease severity is dependent upon environmental conditions. Blossom blight can be expected in humid, rainy weather with mild daytime temperatures (68°F–77°F; 20°C–25°C) and cool nights. Mature fruit rot occurs at high temperatures in conjunction with high humidity. Under the right conditions, the entire tree’s crop can be completely rotted.

Organic controls include Bacillus amyloliquefaciens sold by several companies, Polyoxin D zinc salt (OSO, sold by Certis), Botector/Blossom Protect (SAN Agrow), several copper products and possibly others not I have not seen or tested.  Again, I am open to hearing about your organic control for this disease or any others in fruit crops!