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Why you should pay attention to pH and alkalinity

Teresa Rusinek, Vegetable Specialist
Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture

May 9, 2018

Why you should pay attention to pH and alkalinity

pH and alkalinity, what's the difference?

Simply put, pH is a measure of how acidic or basic a solution is. Positively charged molecules such as H+ will make solutions acidic (lower pH) and the negatively charged OH- molecules will make a solution more basic (raise pH).  The pH scale runs from 1-14 with the value 1 being most acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 most basic.  This scale is logarithmic, meaning a change in one whole unit is 10 times more or less acidic. For example, pH 5 is ten times more acidic than pH 6. Sometimes people will refer to basic solutions (high pH) as alkaline and this is where folks can get confused with the term ALAKINITY.

Alkalinity is the ability of water to neutralize acids due to the dissolved alkalis (bicarbonates) in the water.  Alkalinity is often reported in part per million (PPM) of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). As alkalinity increases in the water, more acid will be needed to neutralize the alkaline substances.   The primary source of alkalinity in ground water aquifers, rivers, ponds and lakes are limestone deposits that have reacted with water over time.  Throughout the seasons, water levels within aquifers can change.  High water levels can dilute alkalinity levels just as low water levels can concentrate them.  Sample your water 2 or 3 times during the year as you notice conditions change.  If your samples show significant change, then you know that regular sampling is necessary.

Water quality considerations in the greenhouse and high tunnel:

When alkalinity is high, it's likely that pH is above optimum as well and the alkalinity level of your water may need to be adjusted to manage your pH.    Think of alkalinity as "liquid limestone".  Each time you water, you increase the pH of the soil/media a little bit. Over time, the soil /media pH increases significantly and ties up nutrients. For example, we commonly see iron and manganese deficiencies in tomatoes growing in media with pH over 7.   This effect happens faster in containers.

Alkalinity regulates the buffering capacity of the water and affects how much acid is required to change the pH.   Many growers use, fertilizer injectors like a Dosatron or Chemilizer to add acid  to water to reduce alkalinity. The acid combines with the bicarbonates to form carbon dioxide and water. ENYCHP specialists can help you design an acid injection program to adjust your pH. The ideal alkalinity level for irrigation water is generally around 100 PPM CaCO3.

Alakinity and pH affect the performance of Pesticides and Sanitizers:

Another important reason to pay attention to water pH and alkalinity is that it plays a significant role in the efficacy of many pesticides used. This is true for both organic and synthetic pesticides.  In a pH over 7, pesticides can break down in a process called hydrolysis.   The higher the pH the faster the reaction. Adding a buffering agent such as LI700, is an easy way to change the pH of the water for mixing pesticides that require a lower pH.   To determine how much buffer should be used, applicators need to know the pH of the water and the volume needed to treat the crop/area.

Here is an example taken from a PyGanic label.

"GENERAL USE DIRECTIONS

IMPORTANT: It is recommended that the final spray mix be buffered to a pH of 5.5-7.0.

Outside of this range pyrethrins can degrade and the product will lose effectiveness."

Word of caution, fixed copper pesticides in a low pH become soluble and can cause phytotoxicity.  The pesticide label will often state optimal pH ranges. If you are unsure contact a technical representative of the product manufacturer.  Applicators should test their water pH prior to a spray application using a pH litmus strip or a pH meter.

Products other than pesticides are sensitive to pH. According to the label, the sanitizer Sanidate 5.0 works best when diluted in water with a neutral pH (close to 7), but sodium hypochlorite (bleach)works best when water pH is lowered to 6.0-6.5.

Water alkalinity and pH adjustments are easy to make and significantly improve the performance of pesticides and sanitizers. If you need help or have questions on the process, ENYCHP specialists can help. We have pH meters and titration kits to determine alkalinity  or can guide you to labs that can test water quality parameters.

 

 



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Upcoming Events

High Tech Precision Orchard Spraying

July 20, 2020

Join us the afternoon of July 20th to learn what's new in orchard precision spraying technology. We'll be joined by Dr. Jason Deveau, Dr. Heping Zhu, and Steve Booher.  After their presentations, we will open up the meeting for all three presenters to field questions and comments. 

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Announcements

U-Pick Farm Practices During Covid-19 Pandemic

U-Pick is a critical direct marketing approach for many of our farms and provides
customers with a unique connection to fresh produce grown close to home. In light
of what we understand about the spread of COVID-19, new management practices
will be needed to protect your farm team and your customers. This document
provides recommended practices and communication strategies for U-Pick
operations for the 2020 season.

https://rvpadmin.cce.cornell.edu/uploads/doc_864.pdf

Resources from CCE ENYCHP!

We are developing new ways to connect with the CCE ENYCHP team this year! We have a Youtube page located at this link. Check out videos on Table Grape Production, Pest Updates and the 20 Minute Ag Manager - in 4 Minutes series

We have a Facebook Page here as well as an Instagram page. We keep these places updated with current projects, events, and other interesting articles and deadlines.

There are also text alerts available. Fruit and vegetable farmers in 17 Eastern NY counties can now receive real time alerts on high risk disease and pest outbreaks texted directly to their cell phone. The Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture program, which is supported by local Cornell Cooperative Extension associations, will now offer text alerts to those that enroll in our program in 2019. 

The text alerts will be reserved for important crop alerts that could impact management decisions immediately. For instance, if there were an outbreak of Late Blight in the area, this would be transmitted to vegetable growers.

Farmers can choose the crop for which they wish to receive updates. Additionally they can request that Ag Business Alerts be sent to them. These alerts might include due dates for crop insurance deadlines, market opportunities etc.

If you have questions, please contact enychp@cornell.edu


Podcasts

2020 Biweekly Vegetable News Podcast- Episode 3- 5/20/20

May 20, 2020
The May 20th, 2020 edition of the Eastern New York Vegetable News covers the following topics:

Spring Spinach Pests and Diseases (1:11)
Pythium Root Rot Symptoms and Management (6:53)
Business Safety Plans for Phase 1 Re-opening in NY (11:27)
Angular Leaf Spot of Strawberry (12:56)
A Conversation with Sue Scheufele, UMass Extension, on Managing Common Brassica Pests (19:05)

Here are links to additional resources mentioned in the episode:

Spring Spinach Pests:
From Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Plant and Pest Advisory 4/2/20
Spinach Anthracnose
https://plant-pest-advisory.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/anthracnose-spinach-2020-scaled.jpg

Spinach Downy Mildew and Leafminer
https://rvpadmin.cce.cornell.edu/uploads/doc_869.pdf

Spinach White Rust
https://plant-pest-advisory.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Spinach-WR-2020-scaled.jpg

Pythium Root Rot:
https://plant-pest-advisory.rutgers.edu/damping-off-identifying-and-controlling-early-season-pathogens-2-2-3/

Business Safety Plans:
New York Forward Plans https://forward.ny.gov/industries-reopening-phase

CFAP Final Rule and program information https://www.farmers.gov/cfap

Angular Leaf Spot of Strawberry:
Source: Penn State Extension fact sheet

Brassica Pests:
**Although Sue discusses applying Entrust as a tray drench to seedlings prior to planting for research purposes, this is an off-label use. Entrust is currently labeled for application to soil in the field. Always consult the pesticide label prior to use. The label is the law.**

Brassica Pest Collaborative webinar recordings: https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/resources/brassica-pest-collaborative
UMass research reports on management of brassica pests: https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/resources-services/brassica-pest-collaborative/research-reports-on-management-of-brassica

Sue Scheufele’s contact information:
https://ag.umass.edu/people/susan-b-scheufele

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