Farmers’ Market experts offer soil, pest control tips

The Farmers Market isn’t just a place to by produce. Besides fresh eggs, raw honey, baked goods, and crafts, local farmers’ markets also provide a wealth of information for growers on garden and crop management. Dorothy Duff, coordinator for the Albuquerque Area Extension Master Gardeners, was at Thursday’s Farmers’ and Arts Market in Cedar Crest where she offered tips about growing in the East Mountains, soil quality, and pest control.

“We emphasize what’s called integrative pest management, which emphasizes first cultural control,” Duff said. “In other words, look at the culture in which your plant is and see if it’s in the best soil, if it’s getting watered properly, if it’s in the sun or shade and all of that. Chemicals are sort of the last resort.”farmers market SAM_1946

Louella Costanza, a vendor from A-Bee Honey and Costanza Orchards, agreed that unnecessary chemicals could have a negative effect on farmers. “It does affect the bees,” she said, explaining, “There is a communication problem between the people spraying and the beekeepers.”

She said if the other growers would just tell beekeepers when they are spraying they could bring the bees back in and keep them from getting poisoned.

“Without bees pollinating, the plant will not produce a good fruit,” Costanza said. She said people just “react and kill” using pesticides out of fear.

“We want the bees to survive,” she said. “Our mission is to save the honey bee.” She said if someone is concerned about swarming bees they should call a beekeeper before spraying, no matter how dangerous the bees may look.

Cedar Crest market coordinator Bob Thompson, a certified organic egg seller, is also concerned about the use of chemicals on crops and feed. In addition, he said some farmers give their chickens genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in their feed, and will then label their product as organic. Thompson said he doesn’t use any GMO products, pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. Duff and Dolly Clark, another master gardener at Thursday’s market, agreed that East Mountain growers don’t typically get as many pests as growers in Albuquerque do. “I’ve never had squash bugs,” Duff said.

“Also apple trees—we don’t have coddlers,” Clark said, referring to the coddling moth that can devastate apple and pear trees.

Common problem pests to both the East Mountains and urban areas include gophers and grasshoppers.farmers market SAM_1940

More unique to the East Mountains though are large animals like bears, which can be a big problem when they come out of hibernation. “They’ll tear up a bee hive in a hurry,” Costanza said.

Keeping sweet things like honey, bird feeders, and fruit-loaded compost piles out of range of bears and other animals can help prevent damage to produce.

Duff recommends using store-bought organic compost. “You can make your own compost, but if you’re growing a lot its hard to make enough for what you need,” she explained. Duff also recommends using worm castings.

Duff said plants like beans and peas help to enrich the soil and put nitrogen back into it, while other plants tend to suck the nutrients out.

Costanza, who besides keeping bees, also grows beans in the Estancia Valley, said one of the reasons Estancia-grown beans are so good is because of the rich soil, which is constantly being recharged with nitrogen by the bean plants.

But when asked about the soil conditions in the East Mountains, Thompson pointed to a giant rock formation and said, “Here, we have granite,” explaining that he brings in truckloads of compost to help enrich the soil on his farm.

According to Duff, planting cover crops like clovers and different legumes that add nutrients to the soil are a better option than tilling. “Rather then tearing the soil up you can plant something in it like a cover crop. Then you come back and sort of dig up the cover crop very lightly and then plant around it,” Duff said.

As far as the type of plants that grow best in the East Mountains, Duff said tomatoes, squash, lettuce, chard, beans, and peas do really well, but crops that require a lot of water like corn are typically harder to grow. She said the important thing to remember is the East Mountains have a shorter growing season, from late May to October.

She said for those living in valleys, the nights will cool off faster, making it difficult for some plants to transition. But in general, many fruits and vegetables do just as well at higher elevations as they do at the bottom of the mountain.

Vendor booths at the Cedar Crest market are $65 for the season or $10 a day. The Cedar Crest market is open 3-6:30 pm every Thursday until October 21. For more information on the Cedar Crest market contact Bob Thompson at 505-269-1577.

Another market sets up at Tractor Supply in Edgewood on Saturdays, and Mountainair Farmers Market is Saturdays as well. There is also a Farmers Market at Bethel Community Storehouse on Friday afternoons through the growing season.