Archive of ‘Agriculture’ category

Sussex 4-H’er places third in national bee essay, wins $250

Mikayla Ockels of Milton tends to her family's honeybee hive. Photo by Rich Ockels

For Mikayla Ockels of Milton, 2011 has been the Year of the Bee.  In January, Ockels won First Place in the Sussex County 4-H Public Speaking Contest and in May, Ockels was notified that she received Third Place in a national essay contest sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc., based in Georgia. The letter was accompanied by a prize of $250.

When her mother Cindy saw the beekeeping essay contest advertised in the 4-H newsletter, she suggested Mikayla make a submission. Fresh from her public speaking win, Ockels was in bee-mode and eager to do more research.  Essayists were asked to investigate the local/regional honey of the United States and see how they differ in taste and color. In all, 23 essays were submitted.

“Whoa!  I won. That was really exciting!” Ockels says of her reaction to opening the envelope that was waiting for her after school.  “It is in the bank right now and I am saving up to buy a second horse.”

Ockels is an eighth grader at Sussex Academy of the Arts & Sciences and an 8-year member of the Harbor Lights 4-H club. Her interest in honey bees began in 2010 when her father Rich decided to try beekeeping as a hobby. Producing honey and wax for candles is  part of the family’s goal to be self-sustaining and produce different types of food on their farm. The first hive, consisting of one nursery and two supers, produced 36 pounds of honey in its first year. The value of the honey harvested paid for the initial investment.

Their 8-acre homestead sits on a larger family farm where wildflowers and native plants bloom uninterrupted, and assisted by some seeded red clover, produce the nectar that the bees turn into honey. Ockels’ prize-winning 1,000 word essay, U.S. Honey: A Taste for Every Preference, researched and compared how the different regional flowers affect the taste and color of honey.

“Our honey isn’t a specific type – it is light sweet and has a mild favor. We use it in a lot of our recipes like muffins and pancakes,” Ockels says. It is often used as a replacement for sugar whenever possible, she says.

“Our honey comes from a variety of nectar sources. One thing we did was stop mowing our lawn for a period of time so the bees could get the nectar,” she says.  “The flavor changes throughout the year!”

Mikayla is learning at her father’s side and her interest in beekeeping expands as the family invests in a second hive. The bees have the entire Ockels family buzzing too. Her younger brother Ben and mom Cindy are all in the bees’ business!

The honeybees were obtained via the Internet. They received a queen and 15,000 bees. “It was cool! They come in a little box with a wire screen. The post office called us and we went and picked them up.” The bees are attention-getters. Some humorous conversations have occurred at the post office, Ockels says.

“It’s a lot of fun to see the process used for harvesting honey and seeing a huge pot of honey on the kitchen counter,” Ockels says. “We have given honey as gifts too.”

Despite being stung a few times, Ockels is still buzzing with enthusiasm. “It was scary,” she says of the first time a bee sneaked inside her protective gear. “Now it’s not a huge deal. Getting stung once a month is good for you,” she adds, nonplussed.

Fortunately, Ockels is not allergic to bee stings.  In fact, she credits the family honey in helping her with her own seasonal allergies. “I just had a spoonful this morning for my allergies and I take some whenever my allergies are acting up!”

Mikayla has begun practicing to reprise her county winning 4-H speech, The Buzz About Bees, at the Delaware State Fair on Friday, July 22 at 6 p.m. where she will compete on stage at the 4-H Centre with New Castle and Kent County 4-H’ers for the state public speaking honor in her age group, 10-12. Her speech is packed with fascinating tips and good advice:

“Bees are an amazingly important and beneficial insect for our environment.  The bee population world-wide is declining.  More people need to get interested in bees and start their own colonies so this important insect can flourish!  If having a bee colony isn’t an option, there are other ways to help.”

“By planting flowers and shrubs that bees like, and not using insecticides in the gardens.Without bees, we wouldn’t have many types of plants and fruit that we enjoy.  Bees have affected our lives in many ways, giving us delicious honey, pollinating the plants, and definitely making life a whole lot sweeter!”

Article by Michele Walfred
Photo by Rich Ockels

UD to hold Weed Science Field Day on Wed. June 22

Anyone with in interest in weed management is invited to this year’s Weed Field Day at University of Delaware Carvel Research & Education Center in Georgetown.

Delaware growers receive training at the 2010 Weed Day at the University of Delaware in Georgetown

The day will begin with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Grove near the farm buildings and new office building on the north side of the road.  Plots will be viewed beginning at 9 am.  Coffee, juices, and doughnuts will be offered in the morning.  Sandwiches for lunch will be provided.

According to Extension Weed Specialist Mark VanGessel, the program will consist of “a variety of herbicide programs for conventional tillage and no-till are being evaluated.  Many of the registered corn and soybean herbicides are being tested, herbicide evaluation for watermelons, weed control programs for snap and lima bean, and a number of studies with traditional soybean herbicide programs are included.  Credits are available for Pesticide Credits and Certified Crop Advisers (CCA).”

Carvel Research & Education Center is located on Route 9 (16483 County Seat Highway), Georgetown. Click here for directions. View photos from the 2010 Weed Field Day.

Food safety starts at the farm-Extension professionals train produce growers

From seed to salad plate, the journey that Delaware fresh fruits and vegetables undergo can be eventful. As they sprout from the soil, are harvested by human hands and tumble from bushel basket to market display, Delaware Cooperative Extension experts are making every effort to ensure Delaware produce travels safely from farm to fork.

Certain fruits and vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage, are more vulnerable to contamination and therefore riskier for consumers, says Gordon Johnson, University of Delaware extension specialist and assistant professor in plant and soil science. Produce that grows at or near soil level, such as cauliflower, and fruits, such as raspberries and strawberries, that are individually hand-picked, have an increased chance of transmitting dangerous bacteria.

E.coli 0157.H7, Courtesy of USDA

The two biggest biological trouble makers, Johnson says, are salmonella and E. coli bacteria, specifically a recent strain, Escherichia coli 0157.H7. These pathogens have become infamous newsmakers.

In 2006, an E. coli outbreak in spinach grown in 26 states, received national attention and devastated an industry that is still recovering from the repercussions. In 2008, a similar scare struck tomato growers and tomato sales plummeted.

Neither outbreak had a Delaware origin and that is a track record Delaware intends to maintain.

Recognizing a need in the industry, in 2008, through a grant with the Delaware Department of Agriculture, Johnson and Sue Snider, UD extension specialist, met with other Delaware Extension colleagues to develop a proactive plan to educate commercial growers about the origins and prevention of food borne pathogens in produce. In addition to agriculture and horticulture agents, family and consumer science educators contributed to the outreach strategy for a complete approach to educate those at the front line of food production – where it grows.

“Family and consumer sciences had already been doing food safety training in the service industry,” Johnson says. “Together with those of us who work on the agriculture end, working with produce growers, it made sense.”  Further collaboration with Delaware State University, Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware (FVGAD) and the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) coalesced into the first formalized session offered to growers in 2009.

The training sessions have been a success. “We have trained more than 200 growers with 156 being certified,” Johnson says. “Another 100 farm workers have also been trained in workplace and personal hygiene.” Now in their third year, the voluntary trainings, free to growers, will be offered in 2011 in March and April at all three county Extension offices.

From left to right, Anne Camasso, Cory Whaley, Gordon Johnson and Tracy Wootten. Since 2009 Cooperative Extension has taught growers food safety in Sussex County.

Food safety trainings are separated into two categories: a three-hour workshop for small scale growers, who typically supply to or sell through farmers markets, road side stands and u-pick locations; and a six-hour training designed for large scale growers who sell wholesale. Each session reinforces and assists producers in understanding and implementing national Good Agricultural and Good Handling Practices (GAPs and GHs) in their operations. The longer session also offers certification sponsored by the DDA.

Although the certification process is voluntary, industry is requiring self-regulation. Newsworthy contaminations at fast food restaurants are also motivating the industry to act. Produce buyers for well-known, national retailers and regional supermarket chains are demanding that their suppliers and growers complete the certification process and enforce this compliance with private audits.

“They are insisting on it,” Johnson says. Retailers want to reduce their liability for food borne illnesses, Johnson explains, and want to ensure, through record keeping, that their suppliers are implementing nationally recognized best practices. “They want to make sure growers are doing everything they can to keep produce safe,” he adds.

The audit process can be extensive.  “It’s a massive amount of record keeping,” Johnson continues. “Large growers may consider hiring someone full time. A minimum of one two hours a day in record keeping is necessary.” Future plans in cooperation with FVGAD to assist growers in creating written plans, necessary for the audits, is in the works.

The current strain of E.coli is particularly troublesome, with the potential to cause internal bleeding. “Pathogens we are working with now are not the pathogens from the past,” Johnson explains. “We’ve seen shifts in the pathogens. E.coli has picked up some genes from other bacteria.  Bacteria share genes all the time and this new exchange has made this particular strain toxic.”

Tracy Wootten, Extension’s horticultural agent for Sussex County, sees the same pressures facing smaller growers. Many of her constituents are medium to small producers who supply local farmers markets and small operations that provide organic produce. “People care about their industry and their farms,” Wootten says. “They have gone into this voluntarily. It shows they want to support it and be safe. It gives them an advantage.”

In Sussex County, the sessions are presented through Extension teamwork. Joining Wootten and Johnson are Anne Camasso, family and consumer science agent and Cory Whaley, agriculture agent.

In addition to the annual GAP and GHP workshops and certification sessions, Extension professionals are available to provide more specific onsite inspections, survey individual produce operations, conduct mock audits and pinpoint areas of improvement. Extension educators focus on four critical areas of fruit and vegetable production: assuring a safe water supply for irrigation and washing; manure application and animal management; worker hygiene; and field sanitation.

“Water integrity has been a recent revelation to growers,” Johnson says.  Water testing is strongly urged and growers are taught to purify recycled wash water. Tomatoes for instance, are susceptible to water borne bacteria and must be washed properly. Wootten agrees. “Water temperature is crucial,” she adds. “If the wash water is not at the appropriate temperature, it can draw contaminates into the fruit.”

By far, the biggest and most dangerous villain is the bacteria E. coli. “Excluding animal manure from fields is crucial,” Johnson says. Warm-blooded animals from livestock and wildlife can carry E.coli bacteria in their guts and excrete them onto fields. Extension agents strongly advise that all livestock production be segregated completely from crop production. “We don’t want to see raw manure or use of other bio-solids around the time to harvest,” Wootten adds.  The heat from properly composted manure kills bacteria and is safe to use 120 days prior to harvest.

Controlling wildlife is more challenging, Johnson admits. “It’s difficult to keep a deer from depositing waste in a field.” Avian wildlife is less of an issue according to Johnson. Another preventative is sanitation at the field site. “Harvest containers, knives, bins, trucks and any equipment that come in contact with produce,” Johnson says, are all targets of evaluation with growers.

The human component however, is a big factor.  E. coli and the virus hepatitis can be transferred by people. “All produce is handled,” Johnson says. “Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing-it is a big thing.”  Training stresses the importance of having proper wash stations available for workers, especially after using restrooms.

It is this stage of the training session where Anne Camasso provides a literal hands-on demonstration with “glo germ” lotion (fake germs) and ultraviolet lamp.  Growers are asked to “contaminate” their hands with the purple virtual germs and then wash their hands. Hands are put under the UV light before and after to see how well they did with the sanitation exercise.

“They are surprised to see a lot of the purple glo-germs are still there,” Camasso says. “They thought they had done a good job!” Camasso explains that calluses on hands are rough and can trap bacteria. A nailbrush should be used to thoroughly clean fingernails and knuckles and any place with skin wrinkles, just like cantaloupes.

The round fruit with the thick, but fissured skin can harbor bacteria.  As Cooperative Extension specialists and growers become increasingly proactive in food safety, the individual consumer also has a major safety role to play.  Produce can be handled by multiple people while in stores. The kitchen knife can be an extension agent too – the wrong kind. Contamination in the home remains an issue.

A knife used for meats should never be used for produce. “If you chop one vegetable and something is wrong with it, and go to another with the same knife, the consumer can cross contaminate,” Wootten says, adding that everyone has a responsibility. “Growers are doing their job and doing everything they can to keep it from being contaminated when it gets to house. What the consumer does is equally important.”

Johnson points out that consumption of raw produce remains the biggest concern.  Properly cooked, the threat is diminished. Fruits and vegetables that go through commercial processing in cans and jars and frozen packaging are safe for consumers.

Johnson is mindful that for Delaware farmers, training of safe food handling is yet another obligation to fit into what is already a busy schedule. Regulations, be they voluntary or mandatory, are ever on the horizon. “It’s another step they have to do, but they are appreciative of the information we provide.”

Article and photo by Michele Walfred

Free produce safety courses/certifications offered to small and wholesale growers

Produce Food Safety Certification Sessions 2011   ♦  Good Agriculture Practices (GAP’s) – Good Handling Practices (GHP’s)

All produce growers who did not attend voluntary produce food safety (GAP/GHP) training sessions in 2009 or 2010 are encouraged to do so in 2011.  This training program is offered

Courtesy of Fruit and Growers Association of Delaware

by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, and the certificate is issued by the Delaware Department of Agriculture.  Trainings are also sponsored by the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware.  This certification program satisfies wholesale buyer requirements that growers attend GAP/GHP training.  Smaller growers that do not market wholesale are also encouraged to be certified and learn about best ways to keep produce safe from food borne pathogens.

Growers that do limited wholesale and mostly direct market will only need to do 3 hours of training.

Growers that do significant wholesale must attend 6 hours (2 sessions) of training to be certified.


SUSSEX COUNTY – Sessions at the University of Delaware, Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, DE 19947.  Call (302) 856-7303 to register.  Email Tracy Wootten, or Cory Whaley, for more information.  Dinner is provided.

Small Growers (limited or no wholesale) – 3 hour training, April 14, 2011, 6-9 pm.

Wholesale growers – session 1, March 10, 2011, 6-9 pm., session 2, March 17, 2011, 6-9 pm.

KENT COUNTY Sessions at the Kent County Extension Office, Dover (UD Paradee Building), 69 Transportation Circle, Dover, DE 19901. Call (302) 730-4000 to register. Contact Phillip Sylvester for more information.

Small growers (limited or no wholesale) – 3 hour training, April 4, 2011, 6-9 pm.

Wholesale growers – 6 hour training, March 3, 2011. 9 am-3 pm.

NEW CASTLE COUNTY – April 26, 6 to 9 p.m. is the session in Newark.

Extension scientists review soil moisture sensors with area farmers

James Adkins, associate scientist for Irrigation Engineering demonstrates the pros and cons of various soil moisture sensing equipment available to farmers. The 3-hour workshop is one of several held at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown. After the demonstration, Adkins and Cory Whaley, Sussex County agriculture Extension agent, discussed how to interpret the data collected by the various instruments. For more information about soil moisture equipment and irrigation topics, please contact Adkins at 856-2585 ext 588.

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