Sanding young beds

Our team got a bit of an early start this year and began our annual sanding process on Monday.

Sanding is a fundamental component of our Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program, helping us manage the relationship between water, soil, weather, disease, insects, weeds, and nutrition. Sanding is a process where we apply a thin layer of sand on the bog surface every four years on a rotating basis: one inch for established bogs, a half-inch for young bogs. This procedure helps improve growth and yield by stimulating the development of new uprights (covering the runners leads to new root development and creates a more healthy vine) while also suppressing disease and reducing insects (by burying weed seed, spores, and insect eggs). It also improves soil drainage while at the same time absorbing and releasing heat so that frost danger in spring is lessened. This increases our efficiency by lowering the need for extra plant nutrition as well as saving water by cutting down frost irrigation times.

Currently the only beds being sanded are the two-year young beds. “For the young beds you put sand on top of the runners, in order to promote new root growth and get new uprights to come up,” explains ICM manager Mike Haines. “It’s just a part of maintaining a healthy bed. And it helps establish young beds and produce more quickly.” On new beds we use twice the amount of fertilizer we put on a producing bed for those first two years. “There’s been a lot of vegetative growth, which is what we want, so now we’re looking for healthy upright growth.”

The team made a couple of minor schedule adjustments based on growth. “We planted Centennial in July 2016, so it’s more like eighteen months instead of two years,” Mike says. “Those have grown so well that they’re pretty close to two-year beds, so we decided to go ahead. Everything else we planted there in August and September didn’t grow as quickly, so we let it be.” He and his team have also made a couple of experimental changes this year: “We’ve been doing a half-inch of sand on two-year beds, but we’re doing a good amount of acreage with an inch this year. We switched to a full inch on the established beds farmwide over the past few cycles and have liked the results. The new beds at Black Rock just grew like crazy, so we thought that could work. The rest of them we weren’t so sure, so we’re experimenting at Warehouse #2 and #3 as well as at Centennial #1 with an inch and doing the rest of the young acreage with the half-inch. That’s a good amount of acreage to compare for next year and see what we like better.”

Mike also plans to speak with Dr. Nick Vorsa at Rutgers about the best way to get new hybrids to establish and produce. And once these two year beds have been sanded, they will move to the usual four-year rotation we use for the established beds!

Autumn tasks

While getting the crop in is our #1 priority at Pine Island every autumn, our team is also hard at work on other important tasks through the harvest season and beyond!

Bog Renovation manager Steve Manning has been busy with the current stages of our reno program. “Most recently we’ve been out working on the next stage at Cedar Swamp,” Steve says. “We got about 3.5 inches of rain over the weekend, so we’ve had to spend some time fixing washouts. But we’re also getting ready to put down the underdrain as well as shoring up the sides of the new dams to help prevent erosion. Next week we’ll start putting gates in again.” With only two harvest crews running, he also has the help of stalwart team members Junior Colon, Wilfredo Pagan, Harry Mick, and Bob Heritage, as well Jeremy Fenstermaker to pitch in with the irrigation layout.

New Production manager Mike Haines is also pretty busy. “We took all the sprinklers out of the new beds a week ago after we got a decent amount of rain,” he says. “The main thing is preparing for all the the post-harvest stuff to improve things for next year.” This mainly means working on drainage improvement; water management, as always, is a top priority for our entire team. “We’ve gotten away from interior ditches in the past couple years and moved to drainage tile, or underdrain,” Mike says. “But last spring we decided to try putting in some trenches, and we’re going to try putting in some more this year. We’ll see if that helps. Trenches help get surface water off a lot more than drain tile did.” He’s expecting a trencher to arrive Monday, and our equipment team is also building one in-house. “I did a survey after the rain, because it was biggest storm all year,” he says. “The young beds generally held up pretty well. A couple of big washouts, which had Steve kind of disappointed. . .but I think it would have been a lot worse without the work he’s already been putting in.”

Other tasks include doing some raking in the bogs that got a little growth, and then working on this year’s sanding plan. And in the meantime, we’re going to finish bringing in those berries!