When pumpkins & strawberries grow side-by-side @ UMES

  • ... Good things can happen

    Wednesday, October 3, 2018
    Dr. Naveen Kumar with "Prize Winner' pumpkins

    First, it was zucchinis and squash. 

    Now, it's pumpkins (and late-season strawberries). 

    Oh my. 

    Dr. Naveen Kumar is the latest University of Maryland Eastern Shore faculty member to produce a bountiful harvest from a small experimental plot on the east side of campus. 

    The assistant horticulture professor and extension specialist employed raised beds, limited fertilization and in the case of the strawberries, greenhouse-style “low tunnels” to overcome soggy ground that complicated life for backyard gardeners and farmers on lower Delmarva through much of the summer of 2018.  Through September 2018, the National Weather Service recorded just under 38 inches of rain locally, including nearly 10 inches in May, putting the area on pace to exceed the average rainfall amount of just under 46 inches.

    A stone's toss from Kumar's one-fifth of an acre is a second experimental plot overseen by Dr. Simon Zebelo, who tested theories on how to generate a higher yield of squash and zucchinis

    Research projects by Zebelo and Kumar fit the mission of a land-grant university like UMES; both are looking for new ways to help boost agriculture production while being good stewards of the environment. 

    Because of an abnormal amount of rain during pumpkin-seed planting season in May and June, Kumar got a late start and used the raised-bed strategy that enabled him to get the young plants above saturated soil.  He started with four varieties of pumpkins on July 5 and in roughly 70 days (instead of the usual three to four months) had a field with of about 125 ripe-and-ready gourds that he planned to give away.

    Early King and Magic Lantern pumpkins @UMES

    “It worked out well for my experiment,” Kumar said. 

    He also used the same strategy for a parallel experiment growing four types of “day neutral” strawberry plants known for bearing fruit into the fall.  Kumar estimates each plant is capable of generating two pints of strawberries apiece, a yield he thinks would be appealing to crop farmers. 

    Kumar also used PVC pipes, twine, duct tape and heavy-duty clear plastic sheets in long rows of half-tunnels creating a transparent canopy over some 180 strawberry plants that by the first week of October were producing red berries.  He figures his rigging cost roughly half of the traditional steel-frame variety. 

    “Everybody likes strawberries,” Kumar said, adding that having a reliable late-season yield could augment the other crop offerings farmers might be looking to sell. 

    Kumar said his research is motivated by finding ways to help farmers save money on materials as well as limit the use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.