Helpful Resources for Fruit Growers

By Gary Gao
Professor and Extension Specialist

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been turning our world upside down, we have been working hard to find new and innovative ways to help all citizens in Ohio.  During these past two months, we have answered many questions from growers and gardeners, produced news releases, taught online classes using Zoom, developed fact sheets on new crops, and continued our research projects.  

Personally, I have watched many instructional videos, read quite a few articles, and contacted some of my colleagues with The Ohio State University and other land grant universities.  Because it appears that COVID-19 will be with us for a while longer, we will need to develop new ways to develop and deliver our educational resources.

Existing Resources
Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide (OSU Extension Bulletin #940)
This guide, now in its third printing, is an excellent resource for home gardeners, master gardener volunteers, gardener center employees, and new fruit growers.  

There is currently a surge in fruit and vegetable production in home gardens.  Many new farmers want to grow fruit crops in order to diversify their operations.  More and more row crop growers are looking for ways to utilize their land more efficiently.  The Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide will be an excellent reference for many. I am very happy to report that more than 5,000 copies have been sold since 2009.  Visit extensionpubs.osu.edu/midwest-home-fruit-production-guide to purchase a copy. 

Midwest Blueberry Production Guide
This regional publication, to which I was a key contributor, was published in 2003 by The University of Kentucky and included contributions from several within The Ohio State University.  This guide was designed with commercial growers in mind,  but also includes useful information for home gardeners.  You can download a digital copy of this bulletin by visiting www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ID/ID210/ID210.pdf.

What is not included in the bulletin is how to grow blueberries in containers, because that has not yet been produced. Research Assistant Ryan Slaughter and I have been conducting research trials with container blueberries and once the social restrictions are lifted, you are welcome to visit us at OSU South Centers to see how it is done. 

Online Training Courses
Specialists such as myself have done a few online classes through Zoom or WebEx. Little did I know that this was the only way our training classes would be offered during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have a feeling that the online training method will become even more prevalent as we move forward.  When I first started with OSU Extension back in 1994, I embraced technology, but it has taken more time to get used to new technology as I haven gotten older.  On April 16, I taught a class on edible landscaping for Greene County Extension.  More than 130 people participated in this training and learned new and useful information.  It was a wonderful experience for me!  By the time this newsletter publishes, I will have likely conducted three more online classes.  I suppose it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. As we look at this pandemic and beyond, we may need to develop better online training classes and offer even more comprehensive training programs for continuing education.

You may have seen some of my YouTube videos.  While they will not be winning academy awards any time soon, I am hopeful that growers and gardeners can learn a few things from our videos.  As we challenge ourselves to get better at these new technologies, our instructional videos and webinars should be getting better and better. 

Research Projects
While it is true that COVID-19 has caused many disruptions with our research projects, our research support staff members have managed to finish the critical tasks for our funded projects.  Ryan Slaughter is a key member of our fruit Extension and research team and was instrumental in accomplishing our critical tasks. We will be finishing our brambles, hardy fig, and hardy kiwi projects this year. We have been particularly impressed by the hardy kiwi cultivar known as Hardy Chicago or Chicago Hardy.  It is important to grow hardy kiwis in a high tunnel for an earlier harvest and higher yields.

We are also on course to wrap up our Laser Guided Intelligent Sprayer project, which was fund by USDA NIFA in 2020.  Our Viticulture Extension research funded through Ohio Grape Industries Program will end on June 30.  We will work hard to help our grape growers survive this difficult period.  
Fruit Pruning School on March 12, 2020

We were able to host our Fruit Pruning School on March 12, 2020 at OSU South Centers in Piketon and it was a huge success.  We tried both hands-on training, indoor presentation and a Zoom live streaming.  Instead of just the usual berry crops, we added apple, peach, cherry, and hardy kiwi to our lineup this year.