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Vegetable Garden. Rich Marini Department of Horticulture Penn State University. Unit 1: Garden Planning (Let’s Plan). Preparing for a Vegetable Garden Making the most of the Garden Space. Preparing for a Garden. Develop plans in February

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Vegetable garden l.jpg

Vegetable Garden

Rich Marini

Department of Horticulture

Penn State University

Unit 1 garden planning let s plan l.jpg

Unit 1: Garden Planning (Let’s Plan)

  • Preparing for a Vegetable Garden

  • Making the most of the Garden Space

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Preparing for a Garden

  • Develop plans in February

  • Select a site – avoid shade, poor soil, wet and low areas, and walnut trees

  • List the vegetable species & varieties – consider season

  • Decide how much to grow – how will produce be used

  • Make a planting map

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Planting Map (24’ x 50’)



spinach (3/20) lettuce(3/20) radishes (3/20)

Onions (4/1)

gr. beans (4/15) gr. beans(5/8)

carrots (4/15) peppers (5/15)






corn (4/15) corn (5/1) corn (5/15)


corn (4/15) corn (5/1) corn (5/15)

corn (4/15) corn (5/1) corn (5/15)



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Planning suggestions

  • Put vine crops on the edge

  • Plant 3 rows of corn for pollination

  • Put tall plants on north side

  • Plant small amounts several times to extent the harvest season

  • 1,000 sq. ft. takes about 1 hr per week of care

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Other considerations

  • Rather than rows, can plant broadcast (no rows), but rows are easier to care for

  • Consider equipment size for row spacing

  • Double crop to use space efficiently – Harvest radishes, peas, lettuce early then plant late-season crops in same space (peppers, beans, summer squash)

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Develop a Garden Calendar

  • January – look at seed catalogues

  • February – Order seeds

  • March – Plant peppers indoors, test soil

  • April – plant early season crops

  • May – Sept. – grow garden

  • Oct. – clean up garden

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Unit 2. Planting a Garden

  • Understanding soils – soils provide support, water, and mineral nutrients

  • Soil is composed of sand, silt, clay and organic matter

  • Soil has living organisms – worms, insects, fungi, bacteria: some are pests, some are beneficial

  • If too much clay, add organic matter

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Soil Chemistry

  • Soil pH should be slightly acid (6.0 – 6.8)

    • Too low: macronutrients are deficient

    • Too high: micronutrients become toxic

  • Macros: N, P, K, Ca, Mg

  • Micros: Fe, Cu, Mn, B, S, Zn

  • Most soils have enough of everything except N,P,K – complete fertilizer

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Soil Physical Characteristics

  • Sand – large particles, good for water drainage

  • Clay – very small particles, holds lots of nutrients, hard to dig, poor water movement

  • Silt – intermediate size, water moves slowly

  • Organic matter – holds water and provides nutrients and supports micro-organisms

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Buying plants & seeds

  • Buy current season’s seeds

  • May have to order unusual varieties

  • Look for disease resistant varieties

  • Buy good-quality plants – look for new shipments – avoid yellow or wilted plants

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Artificial Soil Mixes

  • Fewer disease problems than real soil

  • Usually contain fertilizer

  • Some brands better than others

  • I like “Mirical-Gro”, but others may be good

  • Usually contain peat, vermiculite & perlite and fertilizer

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Starting Plants Indoors

  • Need warm sunny place

  • Don’t start too early, plants will be pot-bound and “leggy”

  • Transplant to pots when about 1.5” tall

  • Put outdoors as soon as possible

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Planting in the garden

  • Cultivate the soil and incorporate fertilizer and lime

  • Use string to make straight rows

  • Small seeds are barely covered, plant large seeds 2 times their diameter in depth

  • Thin plants to appropriate distance – follow directions on the packet

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  • “Harden” plants by growing outdoors for about a week

  • Plant at about the same depth as in pot

  • Remove peat-pot bottom and side

  • Water

  • Avoid hot sunny, windy days

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3. While You wait – Plant Science

  • Seeds – a seed is an embryo, a tiny plant with root parts, a stem, and about 6 leaves. A seed coat protects the embryo

  • Have a food supply until there is adequate foliage to produce enough carbohydrate

  • Endosperm and cotyledons (specialized leaves) – starch (corn & wheat) or oil (beans). Coconut “milk” is liquid endosperm.

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Two kinds of plants

  • Monocots: one cotyledons – grasses

  • Dicots: two cotyledons – beans, apple, maple, tomato

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Seeds and Seedling

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Dicot and Monocot Seedling

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Dicot Seedling

True leaf


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Conditions for seed germination

  • Seeds are living organs

  • Need Oxygen for respiration to generate energy from food supplies

  • Need Water (imbibition) for cell expansion and for photosynthesis and biochemical reactions

  • Proper temperature – 45 degrees for lettuce, 70 degrees for pepper

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  • Water and air enter through the seed coat and carbon dioxide exit through the coat.

  • Some seeds (lettuce) require light (red light) to stimulation of hormones

  • If planted too deep, leaves don’t reach light before food reserves are used up.

  • Some seeds have hard thick seed coats and must be scarified (stratch the seed coat) to allow water in.

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Germination requirements

  • Seed coats also contain “inhibitors” and some need to soak to leach out inhibitors.

  • Some seeds require a chilling period (vernalization) to break dormancy (apple seeds need 1,000 hrs below 45 degrees F)

  • Hormones (gibberellins) may overcome dormancy

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Common reasons for lack of germination

  • Improper soil temperature

  • Soil too dry

  • Seeds planted too deep

  • Seeds washed away

  • Damping-off disease (fungus)

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Basic Plant Needs

  • Light

  • Water

  • Mineral nutrients

  • Air (oxygen & carbon dioxide)

  • Proper temperature

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  • A biochemical reaction in the cells of green tissues.

  • Chlorophyll is the green pigment in organelles called chloroplasts

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  • Requires the green pigment (chlorophyll) in the chloroplast within the cell.

  • The light cycle requires light for energy . Water is split into hydrogen and oxygen.

  • The dark cycle occurs in the dark or light where hydrogen combines with carbon dioxide to form glucose. Oxygen is passed through the stomates.

  • Glucose or sucrose transported through the phloem throughout the plant.

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Light for photosynthesis

  • Chlorophyll absorbs light energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars. Oxygen is also produced. Gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide & water) pass in and out of leaves through small holes called stomates.

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  • Within specialized organelles (mitochondria) in the cells, sugars are converted to energy which is used for plant growth. Oxygen is used and carbon dioxide is produced.

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Plant parts - Roots

  • May store sugars (sugar beet, carrot) or starch (woody roots, sweet potato)

  • 2 types of roots

    • Primary tap root: long strong roots (some trees, carrots, dandelion)

    • Fibrous roots: short thin roots arising from larger roots (beans & tomato)

    • Root hairs are extensions of cells on the root surface (epidermal cells). These very small structures absorb most of the water and nutrients.

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Root Motion

  • Roots normally grow down. They are sensitive to gravity (geotropism).

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  • Connect leaves and roots, and supports leaves for light exposure. Similar to a pipe. Water and mineral nutrients move up in the xylem. Sugar solution moves down in the phloem.

  • Some stems store food – starch in potato, starch in tree trunks in winter, sugar in sugar cane.

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Simplified stem cross-section

Epidermis -



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Longitudinal section of a woody stem

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Stem function

  • Epidermis – one layer of waxy cells

  • Phloem – live cells

  • Xylem – long dead cells lined up end-to-end to produce a “pipe”

  • Vascular Cambium – a cylinder several cells thick between the phloem and xylem. Responsible for diameter increase: produces xylem cells to the inside and phloem cells to the outside

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  • A plants grow in response to gravity

  • Positive geotropism – roots bend toward gravity

  • Negative geotropism – stems bend away from gravity

  • Curvature is caused by unequal growth on the 2 sides of the axis

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Auxin – a plant hormone

  • Produced in young leaves, shoot tips (meristems) and seeds.

  • Auxin moves with gravity, causes bud dormancy and causes cell elongation

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Growing tip

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Tomato Gravitropism

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Motion of stems

  • Phototropism - Stems bend toward light. Auxin is destroyed by light, so cells on the dark side elongate and cause bending toward light.

  • Auxin produced in the shoot tip moves down the stem and accumulates on the lower side of the stem, so stems bend up.

  • Root growth in inhibited by auxin. Auxin accumulates on lower side, so roots grow down

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Apical dominance

  • Buds actually are short stems with about 6 leaves.

  • Auxin moves from the apex down and inhibits buds. Removing the apex (pinching) allows the buds below the apex to grow. This causes branching.

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Carbohydrate transport

  • Sugars can be used for energy or converted to structural molecules such as cellulose (cell walls), fats and proteins.

  • Sugars move from areas of high concentration (leaves) to areas of low concentration in the phloem.

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Flowers – modified stems

  • At some point buds switch from vegetative to reproductive – environmental cues.

  • Flowers are reproductive structures and attractive insects.

  • Pollen produced on anthers is transferred to the stigma, then germinates and grows down the style to the ovary where the sperm fertilizes egg to produce a seed.

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Types of flowers

  • Perfect flowers have both pistils and stamens (peas, bean, tomato, apple)

  • Imperfect flowers are either male or female (cucumbers, melons, squash).

  • Some species have male and female plants (ginko trees).

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Flower Parts

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  • As ovules develop into seeds within the ovary, the ovary swells and becomes fleshy or hardens to protect the seeds. Fruit helps seeds disseminate.

  • Fleshy fruit (squash, tomato, grape) have fleshy ovaries surrounding the seeds.

  • Dry fruits have ovaries with thin, dry walls. Corn, wheat, oats and each fruit is a single seed. Beans are dry fruits with a nonfleshy pod containing several seeds.

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Varieties of bean seeds

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Tomato Fruit with Seeds

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Bean fruit and seed

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How do we make new plants? Plant Propagation

  • Sexual – from seeds: Allows a species to survive by perpetuating genetic variation

  • Asexual or vegetative – produce new plants from parts of a plant to maintain genetic identify. Produces clones.

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Vegetative propagation

  • Stems – potato, bulbs

  • Cuttings – roots can be produced by leaves or stems

  • Grafting – join a scion variety onto a rootstock


Match up



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Plant Life Cycle

Seeds geminate

Plant grows, matures, and flowers

Produces fruit and seeds

Plant dies

Annuals live 1 year (lettuce, beans)

Biennials flower second year, then die (carrot, onion)

Perennials live many years (asparagus)

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Plant improvement

  • Natural selection: In the wild, individuals within a species differ. Those with characteristics enabling them to survive to reproductive age pass on their genes to the next generation.

  • Man has domesticated plants and animals by selecting individuals with the characteristics we want.

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Plant breeding

  • Plant breeding: During the last century we have controlled pollination to develop hybrids or new varieties with outstanding characteristics

  • Examples include high yield, large fruit, different flower colors, disease resistance.

  • There is some concern that we have reduced genetic variation too much, new strains of disease may devastate a crop

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  • A set of techniques used to study and modify genes.

  • Examples

    • FLAVR SAVR tomato – doesn’t produce the ripening hormone ethylene, so it can be stored a long time before exposing it to ethylene to cause ripening

    • Some corn varieties contain the BT gene for resistance to worms

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Genetic Engineering

  • Transferring specific genetic material from one organism to another.

  • Examples: Put the gene from a firefly into a tobacco plant and the plant glows in the dark.

  • Put an antibacterial gene from a moth into an apple tree to make it resistant to bacteria.

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Preserving genetic diversity

We want to save genetic variation to use in breeding programs. USDA maintains repositories for major crops; both seeds and plants.

USDA funds plant collecting expeditions to “centers of origin” for major crop species

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Interdependence (Ecology)

  • All organisms are connected. Some plants rely on animals to transfer pollen and disseminate seed. Some plants rely on fungi to improve root function.

  • Animals rely on plants to convert solar energy (sun light) to chemical energy (sugars)

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Human impact on ecology

  • Acid rain is killing the eastern forest

  • Ozone, from car emissions, injures some plant species

  • Pesticides and other chemicals may injure non-target organisms

  • Global warming may alter the distribution of organisms and agricultural productivity

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  • We can provide support and nutrients for plants without soil

  • Commercial greenhouse tomatoes are often grown hydroponically in shallow trays of flowing water containing fertilizer.

  • Most greenhouse crops are grown in soiless mixes of sand, perlite, vermiculite, and peat

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Unit 4. Garden Care

  • Soil fertility – At least 2 months before planting contact local Extension office for soil testing kit. Fertilize & lime according to recommendations.

  • Apply lime to raise soil pH and reduce acidity (about 6.2 to 6.8)

  • Apply complete fertilizer to provide nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium

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Organic Matter

Organic matter provides nutrients and improves soil structure and water holding capacity. Also encourages many soil organisms – worms, insects, fungi, bacteria

Sources – compost, manure, bone meal

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Garden Equipment

  • Hoe, rake, trowel, watering can, hose, short stakes and string to mark rows, long stakes for supporting plants, hot caps, sprayer, tiller

  • Pesticides – read the label

    • Store locked up

    • Leave in original container

    • Avoid freezing or hot environments

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  • Site selection – avoid low areas because cold air is heavier than warm air and flows down hill just like water.

  • Tender plants, such as tomato, peppers, squash are killed at about 30° F

  • Cool season crops, such as cabbage, broccoli tolerate a light frost (27° F), and carrots, beets, lettuce tolerate 22° F

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Frost protection

  • Cover plants with hot caps, newspaper tents, or mulch with straw

  • Overhead irrigation

  • Late season frost – harvest as much as possible before the frost

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How does irrigation work?

  • As water freezes it releases heat. Ice provides little insulation, so irrigation must continue to freeze until the temperature increases above 32° F and all ice has melted

  • Don’t irrigate when due point is low and there is wind because evaporation requires heat and heat will be removed from plants

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How do hot caps work? Greenhouse effect

During the day short-wave solar radiation is absorbed by soil and exits the soil at night as long-wave radiation. Hot caps provide a barrier to long-wave lengths which are redirected toward the soil. Frosts are rare on cloudy nights because clouds allow short waves, but not long waves, to pass through.

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Managing weeds

  • Weeds are plants growing where they are not wanted

  • Weeds compete for light, water & nutrients

  • Best to eliminate weeds when small

  • Mechanical control – pull by hand, hoe, cultivation. This must be done every 10 to 14 days depending on rain. Weed seeds can remain dormant in soil for many years.

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Mulch to control weeds

  • Can use straw, shredded paper, thin layer of grass clippings or plastic

  • Also helps conserve water, reduces soil erosion and keeps plants clean

  • Apply mulch early, before weeds come up

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  • Chemicals that control weeds

  • May control grasses, broadleafs or both

  • Pre-emergent herbicides prevent seeds germination

  • Post-emergent herbicides kill plants on contact

  • Not recommended for home garden

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Plant diseases

  • Infection requires

    • Susceptible host plant

    • Presence of the pathogen

    • Proper environment for disease development

  • Powdery mildew requires hot dry conditions, and early blight on tomato requires wet conditions

  • Viruses spread by insect vectors

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Managing plant diseases

  • Caused by fungi, bacteria, nematodes or virus

  • Select resistant varieties when possible

  • Encourage quick drying – avoid shade, control weeds, leave space between plants

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Controlling diseases

  • Cultural control – good drying conditions, resistant varieties, remove diseased plants

  • Fungicides and antibiotics – these are preventative and must be applied before infection occurs. Apply every 10 to 14 days to protect new growth and replace residue washed off by rain.

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Diseases of squash

Powdery mildew

Septoria leaf spot


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Non-pathogenic problems

  • Sunscald heat injury to fruit

  • Cold growing conditions can cause plants to turn purple due to poor phosphorous uptake

  • Too much fertilizer can burn roots and cause wilting

  • Too much pesticide can damage leaves

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Insect pests

  • Many types of insects can feed on plants.

  • Grubs (immature beetles) feed on roots

  • Worms (immature moths) feed on leaves, fruit, or tunnel into stems (borers)

  • Maggots (immature flies) feed on fruit & roots

  • Beetles, aphids, and true bugs feed on leaves

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Japanese beetle life cycle

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Controlling insects

  • No resistant varieties, except for genetically modified varieties of corn and soybeans (BT genes)

  • Use insecticides to kill insects

    • Monitor plants every week

    • Don’t apply until you see pests

    • Use “soft’ materials that protect nontarget organisms

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Corn Ear Worm Life Cycle




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Natural vs. man-made pesticides

  • All are poisonous and should be treated with care

  • Natural materials usually are broad-spectrum and kill nontarget species, and they must be applied more frequently because they are less residual

  • Insecticidal soaps are effective

  • Many insects are beneficial and we want to protect them

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5. Harvest & storage

  • Important to harvest vegetables at proper stage. If many leafy vegetables are left too long, they will produce flowers

  • Peppers are ready when they are full size, can wait and harvest them red

  • Tomato can be harvested when just beginning to turn red

  • Cantaloupes are harvested when stem slips off the melon

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Other vegetables

  • Zucchini, summer squash, and cucumbers are harvested when fairly small (before seeds enlarge) and need to be harvested every day or two.

  • Potatoes are harvested when leaves start to die in late summer

  • Onions are mature when leaves fall over

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  • Harvested plant parts are living tissues and continue to respire. We want to slow down respiration so the cells remain alive

  • High humidity for leafy vegetables – put in perforated poly bags

  • Temperature is most important

    • Most vegetables store well in the refrigerator (about 40ºF)

    • Peppers store at about 50ºF

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Unit 6: Careers

  • Without a college degree

    • Farm, greenhouse, florist worker

    • Assistant manager, retail market

    • Landscape worker

  • 2-yr Associate degree in plant science

    • Assistant superintendent for golf course

    • Farm & retail store manger

    • Arborist, flower shop manager

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4-yr degree programs

  • Crop protection – entomology, plant pathology, weed science

  • Environmental sciences

  • Ag economics - farm management, rural development

  • Horticulture, landscape architecture & landscape contracting

  • Plant genetics & plant breeding

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Careers with B.S. degree

  • Teach agriculture and science

  • Ag. Chemical sales, exterminator

  • Government agencies (USDA, DEP, EPA)

  • Manager of farms, retail centers, nurseries, flower shop

  • Landscape architect, Landscape contractor, golf course superintendent

  • Plant breeder

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Careers with M.S. degree

  • Research technician with chemical company, university, USDA, private lab

  • Plant breeder

  • Produce wholesale & marketing

  • International agriculture

  • Government agencies

  • Ag sales and marketing

  • Extension agent

  • Teach at community college

  • Public gardens & arboreta

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Careers with Ph.D.

  • Academia (teach, research, extension)

  • Ag. Chemical company R&D

  • International agriculture

  • Plant breeder

  • Industrial research – Ag. Chemicals, plastics, greenhouses

  • Marketing

  • Government agencies (USDA, EPA, DOE, DEP, PDA)

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Other considerations

  • Rather than rows, can plant broadcast (no rows), but rows are easier to care for

  • Consider equipment size for row spacing

  • Double crop to use space efficiently – Harvest radishes, peas, lettuce early then plant late-season crops in same space (peppers, beans, summer squash)

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