WVSU Yellow Jackets Swarm National Small Farm Conference

By Matt Browning, Director of Communications

patriotguardensWest Virginia State University Yellow Jackets swarmed Virginia Beach as a group of WVSU Extension Service personnel ascended on the 7th National Small Farm Conference Sept. 20-22. Nine staff members hosted eight oral presentations, two poster presentations and an informational exhibit at the event, themed “Creating and Sustaining Small Farmers and Ranchers.”

Staff members presented on a variety of projects, including incorporating technology into agriculture, bolstering youth interest in gardening, urban farming initiatives and others.

“Especially for a school the size of West Virginia State, to have so many of our team presenting their work really speaks to the innovation and scope of our projects,” said Melissa Stewart, assistant program director for Community and Agricultural Resource Development (CARD). “It’s a good reflection of the innovation that is coming out of WVSU.”

West Virginia AgrAbility, a joint WVSU and West Virginia University Extension Service project that seeks to enhance quality of life for farmers with disabilities, was exhibited, as were poster presentations on accessible gardening and providing agriculture education in nontraditional 4-H settings.

jennytabithaOral presentations included the following:

  • The Making of Agriculture: The Intersection of the Maker Movement and Modern Small-Scale Agriculture and How Extension Professionals Can Encourage Both (Extension Agent Jenny Totten with David Francis, Utah State University Extension)
  • Get Off Your Bum and Grow: Encouraging Engagement in Youth Gardening Programs (Extension Agents Jenny Totten and Tabitha Surface)
  • Production and Space Design for the Smallest Farmer: Engaging Children in Agriculture at Any Age (Extension Agent Jenny Totten)
  • Post-Harvest Education for the Small Farmer (Extension Agent Robin Turner)
  • Patriot Guardens (CARD Assistant Program Director Melissa Stewart)
  • Using Smart Phone and Tablet Apps on the Farm (Inetta Fluharty, West Virginia AgrAbility)
  • Growing Small Fruits in Urban West Virginia (Extension Agent Brad Cochran)

agrabilitydisplayHeld every three to four years, the National Small Farm Conference brings together farmers, extension educators and other agricultural enthusiasts to address the needs, challenges and successes of small farmers across the nation and world. The 2016 conference focused on strategies for enhanced farm income and improved quality of life; success stories from small farm activities; and innovative ideas in research, extension and outreach.

“The conference was a great success, both in what we’ve learned and what we’ve been able to share with others by presenting our work,” Stewart said. “The overlap with other extension educators and farmers, especially those here on the East Coast, has been very eye-opening in terms of learning how we can collaborate and expand our efforts.”

The 7th National Small Farm Conference was hosted by Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with support from Virginia Tech.

To learn more about WVSU Extension Service’s presentations and projects from the National Small Farm Conference, contact the presenters above.

Program Spotlight: Cold Chain Initiative

By Matt Browning, Director of Communications

Grocery shopping has become quite a chore for Robin Turner. The WVSU extension agent spent the better part of 2015 learning about the proper handling and storage of fresh produce for the University’s new cold chain initiative, which educates farmers on how to keep their crops fresher longer during the post-harvest process.

“Shopping can be difficult,” Turner says with a laugh. “I’ll sometimes walk into a market and cringe at how things are being stored and showcased.”

Now armed with a wealth of knowledge of proper food handling and storage, Turner is on a mission to impart the same education onto the state’s farmers, with the ultimate goal of providing the consumer with better fruits and vegetables. Thanks to a grant from the USDA’s 1890 Capacity-Building Grants Program, she’s well on her way.

Turner spent the fall and winter providing training to a series of 20 farms during the first pilot phase of the program. Through a series of four workshops, participants learned about all aspects of care before harvest, after harvest, all the way to the consumer, using proper cold storage techniques.

Cold storage, or cold chain, technology refers to the proper refrigeration and storage of crops during the time between harvest by the farmer and end purchase by the consumer to help ensure peak freshness. But, it’s more than simply temperature control – it’s a scientific process with multiple facets of instruction.

One facet, for example, is educating farmers on information they can share with the buyer to prolong the life of the fresh produce. It’s all meant to create a healthier system of locally grown produce in the Mountain State.

“The local foods movement is being embraced all over, which is great,” she says. “But we’ve learned that many small-scale farmers lack the resources necessary to maximize the life of the crops they’re growing. The old adage that one bad apple destroys the bunch, for instance, is true, and that surprises some people.”

Arming the state’s small farmers with knowledge about post-harvest, cold storage technologies will help fill the gap that currently exists in farmer education. The resources that do exist, Turner says, tend to target large-scale producers, not necessarily the family farmer peddling wares at the local farmers market.

“Lots of small farms are participating in farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs, and so on,” Turner says, “but the crops aren’t maintaining long-term freshness because of improper cold storage practices during post-harvest.”

Part of the problem is not only a lack of education but also a lack of affordable resources. WVSU’s project is not only providing the needed education but also looks to provide the same high-level resources available to large-scale producers at a more affordable price.

“We’re hoping to show them, ‘here’s what the big guys can do, and here’s how you can implement the same practices on a smaller, more affordable scale,’” Turner says.

Teaming with the West Virginia National Guard, WVSU Extension Service is helping repurpose many of the state’s former armory sites into agricultural education and resource centers, complete with cold storage equipment and technology that will be readily available to small farmers. Turner has been providing workshops through the project at armory sites already, and demand is increasing.

ColdChain2“The first series of trainings has gone very well, and interest is growing,” Turner says. “We’re excited to see what’s next.”

The pilot phase targeted 20 farms in a regional cluster, and organizers plan to expand into new regions of the state soon. In the meantime, Turner will continue working with the pilot participants to ensure they are correctly implementing what they learned during winter training into the farms during the growing season. She’ll be performing site visits this spring and summer, providing farmers with technologies such as CoolBot thermostatic controllers and cooler systems to incorporate into their practices.

The cold chain initiative is supported by the USDA 1890 Capacity Building Grants Program Award No. 2014-38821-22397 and the 1890 Center for Excellence Award No. CSF-1609-W.

Post Harvest Techniques for the Consumer

by Robin Turner, Extension Agent

Purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market or grocery store is a great way to ensure a healthy diet. But, do you ever wish you could keep those items fresh longer? Let’s look at some post-harvest storage tips to maintain a longer life for your fresh produce.

“Post-harvest” is defined as the handling of fresh produce from the point of harvest to when the product reaches the end user. Quality of fresh produce can never be regained after it is lost. Every fruit and vegetable has its own set of storage conditions that is temperature and moisture (humidity) dependent. With proper harvesting, pre-cooling and storage techniques, fresh produce can be stored to its maximum time. Following proven post-harvest techniques will slow softening (over-ripening), wilting, decay and odors.

The following chart, adapted from Storing Fresh Vegetables for Better Taste, lists appropriate storage temperatures for a variety of fruits and vegetables.


It is important to remember to refrigerate your fresh produce once it is cut or peeled for safety reasons. Produce should be stored in a moisture-resistant bag with air holes; this will prevent condensation, allow airflow and retain humidity. Remember to wash produce with clean running water before consuming, even when peeling. This will ensure that dirt from the outside does not transfer to the inside.

Fruit Tree Pruning and Maintenance

by Brad Cochran, WVSU Extension Agent

For those of us with fruit trees like apples, peaches, plums, cherries, pears and others, March can seemingly be the most labor intensive month of the year. However, March is also the most important month of the year when it comes to the fruit production that will occur on your trees during the coming growing season. This time of year, when the cabin fever is at a level you just can’t stand, is the time to get outside and prune your fruit trees to encourage new growth and also to help our fruit grow larger and become much better tasting. Don’t worry… pruning isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds and this guide can help you feel more comfortable with it in just a few short minutes.

Tips for better fruit tree pruning

  1. First, remove any limbs or branches that are broken, dead, dying or showing signs of disease or insect damage from the previous year. These branches will not be producing quality fruit if they are still living, and generally will be a great place for insects and diseases to enter the tree and wreak havoc, potentially killing the entire tree. Simply take your hand pruners or loppers and cut the branches out at a minimum to the next major fork in the branch. If you are removing insect or disease infested branches then it is recommended to remove at least an additional 6”, but to be safe you should remove more than that. Sometimes this requires the removal of the entire limb all the way back to the main trunk. If this is the case then you want to prune using the following removal method, which includes 3 different cuts with a handsaw.FruitTreePruning

    This cutting method will allow you to prune the limb without damaging the rest of the tree.

  2. Next, remove branches that are crossing others, those that are too vertical or those that are too horizontal. When branches cross and touch other branches the wind can cause the branches to rub against each other and remove the bark creating a place for insects and disease to enter the tree. In this case, just choose one branch and remove the other. Typically, you want to choose the thickest, strongest branch that is near at 45 degree angle, but all things being equal just choose one and remove the other. If branches are too vertical (i.e. straight up and down) these branches are called watersprouts and should be removed. These branches will only be vegetative and will not produce fruit. If branches are horizontal or even going downward then they should be removed as well for the same reasons that they will not produce fruit and if they do it is likely that the weight of the fruit will break the branches off.
  3. Finally, remove branches that are growing inward toward the middle of the tree. The number 1 goal of pruning is to keep the tree healthy and productive. To help do this, we need to be sure that there is plenty of airflow getting into the middle of the tree to help dry off the leaves and branches to reduce the likelihood of mildews, blights and other diseases that can harbor in water. By keeping the middle of the tree as open as possible we can decrease the likelihood of these issues arising during the season.

These three steps are a great start to getting your trees pruned in a proper manner that will keep the tree strong and productive in the growing season. If you have an older tree that hasn’t been pruned in many years, then it is recommended to do these same steps but over the course of about 3–4 years to avoid reverting the tree into a juvenile state creating lots of vertical growth and poor looking trees.

If you’re in the Charleston, W.Va., area on March 16, consider attending our Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop on campus. Details, including registration information, can be found here.

Happy pruning!

Gardening Season Extension Techniques

by John Bombardiere, Extension Agent

March is perhaps the most unpredictable weather month of the year. Temperatures can be near 70 degrees one day and in the 30s the next, so it’s hard to believe any plants outside of a greenhouse could still be growing given the fluctuating climate. The kale and chard in our raised beds gave up in January and February after hanging on throughout a mild early winter, and we have several months to wait before we can plant peppers and tomatoes in the garden again. But there are a few places in the state that still are producing lettuce and greens. High tunnels have been installed on hundreds of West Virginia farms over the past few years. These structures consist of a metal frame, wooden baseboards and plastic covering. They can keep frost off plants in the fall and early spring, and in combination with row covers, can keep lettuce and greens alive and well during even the coldest nights.

For early spring planting outdoors, a few options exist. For frost-sensitive plants, row covers can be used to get fruiting vegetable transplants off to an early start without suffering the consequences of an unexpected frost. These are often called “floating” row covers because they can lay over the plants without harming the leaves like plastic covering will do. For individual rows, hoops made of wire can support the covers. This is called a low tunnel. This saves material and allows for better access to and monitoring of plants. Brands of row covers include AgriBon and Remay. These can be ordered from seed and garden suppliers. Locally, feed and hardware stores sell tobacco cloth that serves the same purpose.

Soil temperature is important for early seed starts outdoors. In order to start seeds in late April and early May, clear plastic mulches are used. The clear mulches transmit solar radiation into the seedbed, warming the soil to proper temperature to allow seed germination. This is a common practice for early direct seeded crops such as green beans and sweet corn.

For more information about high tunnels, ground cover and plastic mulches see the following links:

Finally, always remember to check your city’s ordinances pertaining to the erection of such structures before beginning construction.

Getting to Know Extension Agent Brad Cochran

Our “Getting to Know…” series introduces you to our extension educators, both professionally and a little personally, so you can learn a little more about the people helping to extend knowledge and change lives in your community. 

Brad Cochran is an Extension Agent for Community and Agricultural Resource Development (CARD) located in Kanawha County but providing support to more than 20 counties throughout West Virginia. Brad focuses on small farmer and gardener education on topics relating to urban forestry, mushrooms, hops, pecans, small fruits and general non-traditional agricultural production. Originally from Winfield, Brad obtained his B.S. in forest resources management from West Virginia University in 2010 and his M.B.A. from Marshall University in 2014. Brad joined the WVSU Extension Service family in 2010.

What was your job before you came to WVSU?
This is actually my first job out of undergrad. I came to State as an extension associate and am now an agent.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?
My favorite aspect is getting to meet all of the people that I interact with through workshops, meetings, national conferences, etc., and learning more about them and what they do.

If you weren’t an extension agent, what would your dream job be?
I think this is my dream job! But if I had to choose another career to pursue, it would probably be a teacher/coach at a public school.

When you’re not at work, what can we find you doing?
My hobbies are hunting and fishing, watching sporting events both live and on TV and just generally spending time with my family.

Do you have any hidden talents?
Not really, but I spent four years playing trumpet in The Pride of West Virginia: The Mountaineer Marching Band at WVU.

What was the last book you read?
Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard.

Name your favorite city that you’ve visited.
New York City

What is the best meal you’ve ever had?
I’ve had lots of great meals, but perhaps the best I’ve ever had was at Crabs on the Beach at Pensacola Beach, Florida. I had Alaskan King Crab Legs with all the fixins’ and just thinking about it now makes my mouth water.

What is a “must see/must do” in your county?
Since I’m not a true county agent, I’ll go back to my home county – Jackson – and say that if you’ve never done it, you should do yourself a favor and go to Ripley for the Independence Day celebration, complete with a huge parade, carnival, music on the courthouse lawn and generally a town full of patriotism.

Although Brad’s office is located in Kanawha County, he can be found giving workshops throughout the state. If you have any questions for Brad about what he does or when his next workshop is scheduled, contact him at or (304) 541-3301.


That Sounds Like Fungus! A how-to guide for growing your own mushrooms

Full article appears in the summer 2013 edition of Extension Matters magazine.

Full article appears in the summer 2013 edition of Extension Matters magazine.

By Brad Cochran, Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources,

No matter how you slice or dice them, mushrooms can be a healthy and delicious addition to your dinner menu. Whether you are a fan of button mushrooms on your pizza, oyster and shiitake in your stir-fry, or portabellas stuffed with different cheeses, they all come with their own health benefits to go along with their amazing flavor. What most people don’t realize is how easy these fungi can be to grow either inside the comfort of your own home or as part of your landscape.

Mushroom cultivation has increased leaps and bounds since the 1960s. In 1965, total worldwide mushroom production was at 350,000 metric tons (Royse, 2003). This number increased to 6.2 million metric tons in 1997, a nearly 18-fold increase in total production (Royse, 2003). These production totals have continued to increase in the years since 1997. Of the mushroom species mentioned above, the button mushroom (Agaricus spp.) is the most commonly produced worldwide, followed by the oyster (Pleurotus spp.) and then the shiitake (Lentinula edodes).

Two of the easier mushrooms to produce in West Virginia, or the Appalachian region in general, are oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms can be grown on a variety of substrates, including coffee grounds, straw, shredded paper or logs. Of these different substrates, growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds is the easiest and least time consuming of the methods. The only materials you need are a five-gallon bucket with four to six holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, about half of that bucket filled with used coffee grounds, and oyster mushroom sawdust spawn. Once you have enough coffee grounds, mix the sawdust spawn and grounds together with your hands. After this is completed, cover the bucket with a clear plastic bag, punching some airflow holes into it. You will also want to spray the coffee grounds with water once a day to keep them moist. In six to eight weeks, you will be enjoying oyster mushrooms in your dinner dishes!

Producing shiitake mushrooms is a more intensive process at the beginning, but involves very little time and labor when it comes to production and harvesting. The modern method of shiitake mushroom inoculation has been used since the early 1940s and involves drilling a hole into a log and introducing the laboratory produced spawn via these holes. During the winter months, begin finding and cutting the logs for inoculation. Species to consider are white and red oak, sugar maple (cut before January), ironwood or gum. Oak is the best; oak logs have enough bark thickness to hold in moisture but not so much thickness that you cannot drill into the logs for inoculation. Next, find a location that has approximately 70 percent shade throughout the summer months.

Now that you have found your site and logs, you are ready to inoculate. Shiitake spawn comes in three forms: sawdust, dowel and thimble. If you choose dowel spawn, use a 5/16” drill bit to drill into the log about one inch deep and six inches apart. Using a rubber mallet, drive the dowels into the log and seal with beeswax or a soy-based wax, like cheese wax. If you use sawdust or thimble spawn you will want to use a 7/16” drill bit and again drill about one inch deep and four to six inches apart. The sawdust spawn will need sealed with the wax again, but the thimble spawn does not need to be sealed. Once your log has been inoculated, lean the log against a tree or fence for one summer. Then you will begin to see the mycelium on the top part of the log to tell you that the log is ready to fruit. Once this happens, submerge the log under water for about 12 hours then place the log back in its growing location. Harvesting will occur in about seven days. Then you can enjoy your delicious shiitake mushrooms. These harvests will occur during the summer months every six to eight weeks for three to four years.

For a demonstration of the inoculation process, watch our video:

The best thing about growing your own cultivated mushrooms is that you know exactly what you are getting when you make your harvests. There is no questioning whether the mushroom is poisonous or safe to eat. Cultivated mushrooms are also a great way to get your family involved in the production process. If you are growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds, let the kids be responsible for watering the bucket. If you are inoculating logs, let the kids put the spawn in the logs before the adults put the hot wax in the holes. Kids love to watch the mushrooms grow when they can monitor the change in the buckets every day. It becomes a research project outside of school hours.

Mushroom production in West Virginia is currently showing a four million pound gap between mushrooms demanded and mushrooms produced (Hartz, 2012). This suggests a huge need for added mushroom production in the state and shows market potential for someone interested in commercial production. However, mushroom production just for your household alone can be a fun new project and a way to utilize shady areas of your property that don’t allow for other crops to thrive. Cultivated mushrooms are a very hands-off production crop that can make for a delicious addition to any meal.