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Gardening commercial scale

By Staff | Jun 27, 2015

JOE HANNAN, an ISU Extension commercial fruit and vegetable production specialist, explains during a garden tour Monday how a stirrup hoe works to cut weeds off the root, without disturbing the soil and stirring up other weed seeds.


FORT DODGE – Except for a handful of gypsum he gives tomato plants when first putting them into the soil, Richard Buske said he doesn’t fertilize his acres of fruit and vegetables on his farm north of Fort Dodge.

He doesn’t really have to, said Joe Hannan, an Iowa State University Extension commercial fruit and vegetable production specialist. Buske’s soil is rich with organic matter and holds water well.

Buske, hosting a tour of his farm Monday evening, said the gypsum helps tomatoes fight off blossom end rot, which is the result of calcium deficiency.

He does other one-time fertilizing at planting with other fruit and vegetables, in a way that “only the plants get it, not the weeds.”

-Farm News photos by Larry Kershner THIRTY VISITORS to the Richard Buske vegetable farm tour his commercial garden Monday evening. Buske said he’s been gardening all his life, and on a commercial scale for 21 years. He sells his produce through farmers markets.

He discussed with about 30 visitors to his farm how he has developed and customized his tools and other equipment to save wear on the body during the daily chores of weeding, thinning, treating, harvesting, cleaning and storing produce.

“One thing I’m taking away with me,” said Josh Nelson, of Belmond, who raises hogs and is in the first few years of commercial gardening, “is the simplicity of his system.

“I may be over-thinking the process.”

Nelson said he sells his garden produce at the farmers market in Mason City.

“We’re looking for the least amount of input,” Nelson said, “and still get the production, because at the end of the day, I still have to make some money.”

RICHARD BUSKE answers a question Monday evening about what a person needs to get into commercial gardening. “A good tractor,” Buske said, “but not a very big one.” To the list he added good help and an understanding that gardening on this scale requires long hours and dedication. He is surrounded by a variety of his vegetables, most of which were harvested earlier that day.

Buske repurposes farm tools, such as former planting check wire as support for his peas.

He reshaped a grapefruit knife to make thinning and weeding around young carrot plants easier.

He added wider handle bars to a small tiller to give himself more stability on uneven ground.

A stirrup hoe, he said, not only cuts weeds off at the root, disturbing little soil while not stirring up weed seeds, also allows him to work standing straight, rather than bent over.

An old refrigerator keeps some of his produce cool until market time.

Galvanized washtubs, not expensive stainless steel sinks, are used to clean the vegetables, preparing them for market day in Fort Dodge – every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning.

Buske uses black plastic as ground cover to serve as weed barriers.

Under the plastic he runs drip irrigation, connected to a well.

“So far, with all the rain,” Buske told his guests, “I haven’t had to water.”

When asked why he has so many tomatoes, Buske said, “because that’s where the money is.”

His garden features the usual kinds of things – a variety of leafy vegetables, kohlrabi, onions, carrots, turnips, beets, peas and beans.

But it also has a huge patches of rhubarb and asparagus that impressed the tour attendees.

It’s all planned, Buske said, so there will be freshly harvested produce for every market day of the growing season.

Because determinate tomatoes will grow to only a certain height and ripen all fruit within a short six- to eight-week window, Buske said he plants new rows of the same variety a few weeks apart in order to assure he has them available all summer.

Leroy and Janice Jorgensen, of Humboldt, both master gardeners, said they enjoy such farm visits for the new and different ideas to be gleaned.

The Jorgensens said they don’t grow to sell produce. They enjoy canning, but also giving away garden products.

ISU’s Hannan, said a 2-inch rain early Monday morning, was timely for the tour, as he used that to caution gardeners about cleaning their produce thoroughly after heavy rain events, especially if the garden was exposed to any amount of flooding.

He said salmonella and E. coli contamination is likely in those situations. The bacteria can remain active for up to 90 days, he said.

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