Although I am not a commercial vegetable or berry grower, I rarely miss the opportunity of attending events held at the Randolph Farm of Virginia State University, which explains why the pouring rain and thunderstorm prediction on July 24, the day of the 2014 Commercial Vegetable and Berry Field Day at Randolph Farm, didn’t stop me from going there. The reason, aside from my interest in growing an edible garden, is two-fold: first, the venue, fortunately, is not very far from where we live, and second that it is always nice to chat with some of the organizers I have come to know now and, for that matter, hear familiar names being mentioned, since my husband has been on the math faculty of VSU for the last forty-five years or so.
Incidentally, if you have not been to VSU’s Randolph Farm in Petersburg, it is worth a visit; sprawled in hundreds of acres, about a mile from the main campus, the agricultural learning center is invariably bustling with activity, whether from the lush seasonal crops planted in the field or the niche crops growing in high tunnels. Not only is it an educational experience but an exciting one, too.
Despite the heavy rain and loud clatter of the downpour on the roof of the designated seating area for attendees, this year’s Commercial Vegetable and Berry Field Day started on time. After a brief introduction, unless one prefers to walk, group transportation, as always, was available to take everyone to the five different stations nearby. They were: table grapes; the importance of soil management and vegetable extension variety trial; high tunnels (which include ginger, turmeric, green papaya, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, aronia berries and cut flowers/berry pest update); sweet potato variety trials; field blackberries and blueberries, each hosted by an experienced presenter.
Since growing vegetables is an interest I have recently rediscovered, I spent most time at the vegetable area which is just past rows and rows of table grapes, each clearly marked with the variety name. Once inside the vegetable and herb high tunnel, I was so fascinated by the cluster of basil on which small pale yellow butterflies were hovering crazily, that I almost overlooked the presentation of the enthusiastic young undergraduate student; eventually though, I noticed many other noteworthy items growing in the high tunnel such as tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and pumpkins, some of which are fairly large in size, and bunches of herbs hanging upside down at the rear end, presumably to dry. The student then pointed out the field just behind the tunnel where a large area of asparagus, several varieties of peppers, some colorful enough to be mistaken for being ornamental, tomatoes including yellow ones, eggplant etc., are growing.
Conveniently, a small “farmers market” was set up just in front of the vegetable high tunnel selling fresh vegetables, as well as cantaloupes and berries from the farm. And, as it turns out, I ended up having a “vegetable and berry day,” literally, as the eggplants and blackberries were too tempting to pass up.
Gita’s Tip of the Month: Remove any disease infested leaves fallen under roses so that disease is not harbored in the soil and carried over from season to season.