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Variety and Growing Trials


Current Crop Trials at Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Cloud Mountain has run variety trials for all types of tree fruits, berries and vine fruits for over three decades. In the last several years, we've started growing systems trials on a number of crops. We believe there's promise in developing cropping systems that will create new opportunities for market farmers in the region. Below are descriptions of projects currently underway.

Salad Green Production and Variety Selection- These variety evaluations are intended to identify disease and cold resistant varieties that can be grown in winter shoulder seasons. The goal is to expand seasonal production capacity for local growers. This project is in collaboration with Washington State University, with funding and sponsorship by the Whatcom Community Foundation, the Community Food Co-op, and Washington State Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crops Block Grant Program. The 3 year project will focus on variety and field production trials. The project includes the purchase of specialized production and harvesting equipment for field trials at participating farms; training on the new equipment for 10 farms over three years; and accessibility to the equipment by the broader farming community.

Vegetable Processing Facility- In a collaborative effort with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center and the Whatcom Community Foundation, a small vegetable processing facility will be built at Cloud Mountain to provide vegetable processing abilities to the broader farming community. Capabilities and projects anticipated so far are the washing and processing of salad greens; and the processing of carrots, broccoli, and cabbage for Farm-to-School programs and for bulk orders to delis and restaurants. With a cooperative approach to use of the facility's equipment, local farmers will be able to access larger markets.

Wine Grape Variety Trials- This project was started by Gary Moulton of Washington State University in Mount Vernon. The grant-funded program ran for 10 years, providing grape varietal evaluations planted at Mt. Vernon and Cloud Mountain. When the grant funding ended, Cloud Mountain felt there was real value in this project and decided to continue the trials. With the help of Bruce Watson and Peter Bos from the Northwest Wine Academy in Seattle, we have also begun to do wine evaluations. Currently we have over 30 varieties of red and white wine grape cultivars planted in trial blocks. Promising cultivars are planted in increasing numbers for wine trials. Wine trials are produced in small quantities for sampling. The focus of the project is to advance cultivars that will produce wines that can compete in today's marketplace. If you would like more information or would like to be a part of the harvest sampling and wine tasting events, please send us an email with your interest.

Table Seedless Grape Trellis & Training System Trial- We're testing variations of the Geneva Double Curtain Training System, with the best northern varieties available. The most common grape training system used in the greater Puget Sound Region, Salish Sea, has been the Vertical Shoot Positioning System. As the northern seedless varieties originated from the eastern native concord grape (Vitis labrusca), the production on the VSP system has been low. With a change in trellising system, there is the promise of increased production. If you're interested in attending a workshop on this system, please email us.

Sweet Cherry Production- Locally produced sweet cherries command high prices in the marketplace. With this project we saw two issues that prohibit cherries from being grown on any commercial level west of the Cascades. Bacterial canker and untimely rain create too much risk for this valuable crop to be grown using conventional growing systems. To address these issues, we have developed a three-season high tunnel and have been working with Matt Whiting from Washington State University and Greg Lange from Michigan State University who developed this system. Their Upright Fruiting Offshoot (UFO) training system maximizes fruiting surface and air circulation within the tunnel. The cherries began cropping in 2010. There are 8 varieties currently under evaluation for organic production in the tunnel. If you are interested in attending a workshop on this system, please email us.

Growing Peaches in the Maritimes- We've been testing many new peach varieties and experimenting with rain covers over the trees in spring. Frost, brown rot, bacterial canker and pit splitting can cause significant losses during fruit formation, and we're hoping the rain covers will mitigate these problems. We are looking for fruit and training systems that are suitable for organic production. Fruit evaluations look at disease resistence, eating quality and productivity. For more information, send us an email.

Fertigation Trials- We grow numerous high tunnel crops: tomatoes, peppers, melons and eggplants. Three years ago we introduced an organic fertigation program that has more than doubled the weight of our produce yeilds at harvest time. Plants grow more robustly when fertilizer is applied to their roots through the irrigation system. As a result, we have had to modify our training systems for better air circulation, structural support and harvest conditions. If you'd like to attend a workshop on tunnel crops, let us know.

Tree Fruit Variety Trials- There is a long history of apple and other tree fruit variety trials in Northwest Washington. In the early 1970's Bob Norton, then superintendent of the Washington State University Research and Extension Center in Mt. Vernon, planted the beginnings of several decades of apple variety trials at the research facility. Gary Moulton took over and expanded these trials, testing all kinds of tree and bush fruits. These trials clearly showed skeptics that more than just a few varieties of apples and other fruits could be grown in the Puget Sound region. Many flourished and were fairly easy to grow, and many of the wonderful selections of fruits that nurseries in the Puget Sound region offer came from the work done in these trials. One of the remarkable results of Dr. Norton and Gary Moulton's decades of work was a culture of backyard fruit testers. This culture still persists today; among these testers are Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation and the Seattle Fruit Tree Society. Over the decades at Cloud Mountain, we've planted and trialed many varieties, in the interest of finding commercial varieties and testing cultivars that work for home orchardists. Building on the work done at WSU Mt. Vernon, Cloud Mountain continues to expand our trials of interesting apple, pear, and plum cultivars, including plantings of many heritage varieties.

Demonstration Gardens, Fruit- Many of the fruit and ornamental plant varieties we sell in the nursery can be found in our demonstration gardens. We recently planted a double row of apple varieties, based on their historical importance in Washington State from the 1880's to the 1940's. In addition to the apple trials, we've conducted trials for numerous pears and plums, looking at ease of growing for the home gardener and quality of fruit in our climate. You'll find all of these fruits growing heartily in our demonstration gardens. Plus, our berry and kiwi demonstration plantings give us the forum for teaching workshops on cane and vine management skills. For more information, send us an email.

Demonstration Gardens, Ornamentals- We've planted many ornamental plants in our demonstration gardens, so gardeners can see what they'll look like in 10 to 15 years or more. Ornamental plants often grow more vigorously in our mild summer climate than in other climates, especially with irrigation. It's easy to choose plants based on how they look now, without knowing how large the plant will become over time. Seeing more mature specimens can help gardeners make informed choices. We also plant woody plants of borderline hardiness to test them in our winters. Because of our slightly inland site, we tend to have warmer summers and colder winters than Bellingham. If a plant thrives at Cloud Mountain, it will usually do well in all of the Western Washington lowlands. For more information on our ornamental plant trials, send us an email.

Day Neutral Strawberries- This project is to develop a propagation system that will generate strawberry nursery plugs for September plantings. Research from WSU has shown significant yield improvements with fall planted plugs compared with traditional spring planted bare root plants. Field planting of plugs began in the fall of 2011 with plantings of Albion and Seascape in black plastic mulch. Drip irrigation was installed under the mulch. Another aspect of the project is testing different fertigation regimens to improve firmness and shelf life.