Market Farming Fact Sheets:
Ask an Organic Specialist: Market Farming Answers
You must keep documentation that the seed planted during your transition meets these requirements as part of your application for organic certification. If you plant a corn seed treated with captan after two years of transitioning to organic, for instance, you must restart the 36-month clock on your transition, to the day you planted that seed on that field. If you are unsure if a seed treatment is allowed, ask MOSES, or the organic certification agency you are planning to use when you become certified for organic production.
If your operation is certified organic, you are required under the organic regulations to plant organic seed, unless you cannot find an “equivalent organically produced variety” in the form, quality or quantity that you want. For example, you may want organically approved clay-coated carrot seed for ease of planting, and it is not available on organic seed; or, you want 1000 pounds of bodacious sweet corn seed and you cannot find organic seed in that quantity; or, the germination rate for the organic barley you found is only 65%; or, you cannot find the specific variety of seed in an organic form that the buyer of your crop wants you to grow. In all of these cases, you can use non-organic seed. It cannot have prohibited seed treatments, as described above.
Note that the rule requires you to seek out an “equivalent” variety. If you are new to organic and are unsure whether the organic seed varieties are equivalent to the familiar non-organic varieties you are used to growing, you should trial out organic varieties with similar characteristics at the same time as planting your untreated non-organic seed, to see if you can find one to your liking. Higher price is NOT an acceptable reason to avoid planting organic seed.
Organic seed is an investment in our future as organic producers. Since organic seed is produced under organic management, and the seed breeders are specifically working to provide characteristics that organic crop producers need, it makes sense to purchase from these companies and support their efforts. For example, organic corn producers cannot plant in cold ground in the early spring, since their seed is not treated with fungicides. Therefore, they want a seed that will germinate quickly as well as canopy thick and early to help with weed control in their organic fields. Organic seed breeders work to have crops that respond well to natural, slower release forms of fertility inputs, whereas nonorganic corn seed breeders don’t do this.
Aphids are sucking insects that weaken plants by sucking up sugars and other fluids from crops. They are not easy to see, since they are the same color as the plant stem and generally like to feed on stems, buds, and underneath leaves.
Step one for control is to monitor your crops on a regular basis. Infested plants are often stunted and can be a lighter green or yellow. Look closely at the stems under the leaves for aphids. A magnifying glass or loop can help. A good approach that saves time is to flag “sentinel” plants. Mark plants in a grid pattern and only monitor those specific plants on at least a weekly basis. If you find significant numbers of aphids on these plants, you know it is time for control options. Yellow sticky cards are another good monitoring device. Adult female aphids have wings and are strongly attracted to the color yellow, which mimics the color of sickly plants. The cards are coated in sticky glue, which traps them. Check cards at least weekly for signs of adult aphids. Sticky cards need to be replaced frequently to work well. Fortunately they are cheap and available through any greenhouse supply company.
If you have any infested plants in a greenhouse or high tunnel, you should begin control options since their numbers can explode quickly.
Here are your options as an organic farmer:
There are a number of predators and parasites available for purchase and release. Ladybug larvae are the most familiar, but there are parasitic wasps, lacewings and others available now as well. Biological controls work best to keep aphid levels down, but may not give good control if you already have a problem. They simply cannot reproduce as quickly as aphids (which can actually reproduce without males- females give birth to clone daughters). Beneficial insects work best as preventative controls. A number of companies sell beneficial insects, including:
Soapy water will kill aphids. The soap strips away their waxy cuticle and they die of dehydration. In order for this to work, they must be directly sprayed with the soapy water. Use a sprayer and mix one tablespoon of liquid soap per gallon of water. (Dr. Bronner’s is pure soap. Be careful not to use soaps with perfumes, dyes or other synthetic additives.) There are also many ready-to-use brands that are OMRI listed including the common Safer Insecticidal Soap.
Allowed Chemical Sprays
Remember that all insecticides approved for organic use are “restricted use” products. You can use them only when your other control options have failed, and you must notify your certifier if you intend to use a new product and the reason you must use it. Pyrethrum/pyrethrin-based sprays will work on aphids, but have a very short residual effect and must come in contact with the aphids. The product Pyganic works well, since it is pyrethrin mixed with oil, which coats and kills aphids and many other insects. Your certifier should be able to provide a list of approved pyrethrum/pyrethrin sprays or check the OMRI website for a list: www.omri.org.
Aphids also love plants that are over-fertilized with nitrogen. If they are a constant problem despite other control efforts, you might be adding too much nitrogen to your potting mix or through fertilizer applications. A tissue test to determine nitrogen levels may be in order if you are having ongoing issues with aphids and other sucking pests.
As always, crop rotation and good sanitation practices can help control aphids in the long run.
Yes, you can plant non-organic strawberry plants and sell the fruit as organic with no waiting period, provided you have documented a search and could not find commercially available organic strawberry plants.
The requirement for planting stock is similar to that for commercially available organic seeds. You must use an organic version unless you cannot find it in the variety, quality or quantity that you need. You must document your search for organic strawberry plants or other types of planting stock. If you cannot find them in the type, quality or quantity you need, then you can plant non-organic plants and sell the fruit as organic.
In February 2013, the National Organic Program (NOP) updated guidance on whether or not “planting stock” such as strawberries, raspberries, tree fruits, and herb plants needed to be under organic management for one full year before selling the production from these plants as organic. Many certification agencies had required a year of organic management. With the update, the NOP clarifies that the one year of organic management is only required when a grower is selling the planting stock itself as organic.
You can sell strawberry fruit as organic at any time from a non-organic strawberry plant. However, the runners from that plant must be under full organic management for a year before you can sell them as “organic planting stock.” Also, you can sell rosemary or lavender leaves as organic from non-organic plants recently planted on your organic farm, but you must manage the plant organically for one full year before you can make cuttings and root them to sell as organic plants.
At farmers’ markets, where these exempt-from-certification growers often sell products, labeling can become an issue. It is unfair to producers who go through the strict requirements to achieve organic certification to see the label misused. In many cases, misuse is a result of ignorance, not malice. But, it can cause bad feelings between growers at a market, and impact a market’s reputation if patrons see “organic” being used loosely.
To ensure that vendors at a farmers’ market are using “organic” correctly, managers can ask them to sign a statement that they have followed organic rules. This not only makes vendors aware of the standards they must meet, but also satisfies certified organic farmers that their market neighbors are meeting the same strict rules.
The statement below covers many of the requirements that a smaller scale grower or livestock producer must meet in order to sell organically labeled products as a noncertified (“exempt”) organic farmer. It provides information on what practices and inputs are allowed in order to use the organic label, and can be a valuable educational tool.
Farmers’ market managers should feel free to modify this statement and have it reviewed by their own legal counsel. This type of statement should be updated each year to keep current with changes to organic regulations.
NOTE: Anyone may file an anonymous complaint at NOPcompliance@usda.gov to report someone who is making an organic claim who is not certified or exempt from certification requirements.
Statement for exempt-from-organic-certification producers to use the word “organic”
I am a producer that is not certified organic, but I use the word “organic” to describe my products or practices in the marketplace. The list below describes many of the requirements in the organic law that I follow in order to use the word “organic.” I have read and follow the full U.S. organic regulation, which is located at www.ams.usda.gov/nop.
I affirm that:
1. I sell less than $5,000 annually in organically labeled products.
2. I have not planted any seeds that had synthetic treatments, such as fungicides or insecticides.
3. I have planted all organic seeds if they were available in the variety and quantity I required.
4. I have either grown transplants myself using only OMRI* or organic certifier organically approved potting mixes and other inputs or I have purchased certified organic transplants.
5. I have only applied fertility, pest, disease and weed management inputs that have either been approved by OMRI or by an organic certification agency. I understand that there are numerous agricultural input products that make organic claims that are untrue and I have gone the extra step to verify what I am using meets the organic law.
6. I have implemented a soil building rotation on my farm, where annual crops of the same type are not grown in succession in the same field. I also use plant and livestock based materials such as cover crops and compost to continually improve my soils.
7. I have not applied manure to my fields growing crops for human consumption any sooner than 90 days before harvest for crops that are not in contact with soil (i.e. sweet corn), or 120 days before harvest for crops that are in contact with soil (root crops, tomatoes, peppers etc.).
8. I have documentation that compost containing livestock originated components used on my farm meets the requirement of having a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio of between 25 to 1 and 40 to 1, has had a temperature maintained of 131 to 170 degrees F for 15 days and has been turned 5 times, or if in a static vessel, had this temperature maintained for 3 days.
9. All mammalian livestock has been managed organically from the last third of gestation of their mother to the day of slaughter. All poultry has been managed organically from the second day of life. Organic management includes 100% certified organic feed.
10. All livestock has had access to the outdoors, with ruminants receiving 30% of their nutrition from pasture during a minimum 120 day grazing season. All animal health products and feed supplements have either been OMRI approved or approved by an organic certification agency.
11. I have maintained documentation that verifies what I have stated above.
*OMRI=Organic Materials Review Institute (www.omri.org)
We have Canada thistle growing in the large aisles in our two-acre asparagus patch. What can we do to manage this perennial weed?
Canada thistle is a difficult weed to control—I have also dealt with it on my farm in annual crops. I am going to give you a variety of options. Timing and persistence are very important in all of these options.
Dig Them Out
I know this is very time consuming and difficult. The time to do this is as early in the spring as you can see the thistle, preferably when it is still just a rosette and has not yet started to grow a vertical stem. The length of the stem of the plant relates to the depth of the root—the taller the plant, the longer the root. So digging when the plant is very young gives you a better chance of getting the whole root.
Dig when the ground is soft and moist. You want to get the whole root. At the bottom of the Canada thistle root, there is a piece of root that is horizontal to the vertical tap root. I call this an anchor. When you get full root, including that little anchor, then you know you have gotten the whole root. REMOVE the thistle from the field and either fully compost them, or burn them on a burn pile. Thistle roots are very resilient and can re-sprout quite easily. I use a garden fork to dig out the thistle rather than a shovel. This way I don’t break the roots. Leather gloves are another essential tool when digging thistle. I do this in the early morning over a 2-week period in the spring. You can really make a lot of progress, even with just one hour a day.
If you have a handheld flame burner, you can burn them. Again, this needs to be done in the rosette stage and would probably need to be done 2-3 times in the early spring. This is faster than digging, but still needs persistence!
Smother With Mulch
Unfortunately, mulching is not the best method, unless you have a very thick mulch for 3-5 years that truly does not let the thistle receive any sunlight. The root will still be getting nutrients and moisture, so you may just weaken the root, but not destroy it. Black plastic mulch might work best; but make sure you don’t use a woven landscape fabric, which would still allow nutrients and moisture to keep those roots viable.
Smother With Cover Crop
I have had success with this on my farm, and I know corn/soybean growers have also had success with this on a larger scale. Plant sorghum-sudangrass with a drill or some way to cover the seed lightly after broadcasting it. Use very shallow tillage to prepare the area if you need to, but as little as possible. When the thistle is about 2-3 feet tall or starts to bud in your thick stand of sorghum-sudan, go in and mow it. It’s very important that you DON’T LET THE THISTLE GO TO SEED! This mowing cycle can be done 2-3 times in one season. This causes the thistle root to lose a lot of its vitality.
The reason this works well is that the sorghum-sudan is very thick and grows so quickly that the thistle can barely compete for nutrients, water and sunlight, and must use up the nutrients from its root stores. When you cut it, the cycle starts again.
Thistle also likes compacted soil and the incorporation of all of this mowed organic matter loosens up the soil and changes the soil environment so it is less “attractive” for the thistle to grow. I’ve had about a 65-85 percent reduction in thistle in one year with this activity. Then the following spring I go out and dig or burn what is left.
Mow the thistle continually through the season, keeping them 6 inches or less. This will also weaken the roots, but is not as effective as the other options above.
Soil Health, Nutrient Balance
Having a well-balanced soil nutrient profile, especially with the use of high calcium lime or gypsum to bring up low pH soils, will also reduce compaction. Do some soil testing, and compare trace nutrients in the areas where the thistle is present and where it is not. You might be surprised to see some nutrient deficiencies in the thistle areas that you can work on correcting.
Herbicide Approved for Organic
There is an herbicide called AllDown, that is approved for use on organic land. It is a blend of acetic acid, citric acid and garlic juice. Again, it must be used in the rosette stage to be effective, although they advertise it as being effective on larger weeds, too. I do not have personal experience with this product, but others have told me that it works best on the smaller thistle. The manufacturer is located in Minnesota: 952-368-0020 or www.summersetproducts.com. This is the only herbicide that is approved for use in organic production that I know of for use on thistle.
As you can see, there are a variety of strategies to control thistle. You can do one or more of these at the same time to get long term control. It may take 2-4 years of persistent effort, but you can get ahead of thistle in your organic system!
Before you take drastic steps, determine if the damage is at an economic threshold where you need to take control measures. Knowing the life cycle of the pest bothering your vegetables will tell you if the population numbers can rise very quickly, or if they tend to lessen over time. Your understanding of the insects’ needs and dislikes will help you manage them over time. In a war where only numbers are considered, insects tend to win. In a war where knowledge is the main weapon, humans have the upper hand.
The organic regulation has a pest control hierarchy that mandates you start with cultural, biological or mechanical practices to manage pests, weeds and diseases. When those don’t curb the problem, you can use natural products. After that—but only as a last resort—you can use synthetic materials that are on the National Organic Program’s National List of Approved Substances. Use of synthetics should be avoided as much as possible; broad spectrum insecticides kill beneficial pollinators or predatory insects along with problem insects.
Organic agriculture is a system of production, not just a way to grow food by substituting organically approved materials for non-approved ones. Keep track of problems you have had in the past and seek out resistant varieties (cultural control). Grow habitat beneficial to insects that prey on your pests (biological control). And, use exclusion devices like netting or floating row cover (mechanical control) to protect the tender young plants so favored by insects.
Research has shown that insects favor weak and stressed plants; healthy plants are less attractive to pests. Try foliar feeding your plants with a fish emulsion and seaweed blend to boost their immune system, both to help them recover from the insect damage and to discourage further infestation. Consider starting a regimen of foliar feeding when your plants are usually stressed, such as right after transplanting, when they flower and when they set fruit. Improving the health of the plant also helps you achieve higher yields of quality crops.
Another management technique is to plant a trap crop that is highly favored by your problem insects, and then spray an approved pesticide only on that crop. If you need to move to your last resort of approved synthetic materials, check out Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply’s pest solution chart (www.groworganic.com/weed-pest-control/organic-pest-control. html). This cross-referenced chart of problem insects and control materials is very useful.
As you learn more about insect life cycles and how insect pests interact with your environment, you can help your plants become less vulnerable to insect problems.
I am washing roots, squash and other vegetables for short- and long-term storage. Is there something I should add to my water to help them keep?
There are three common wash water additives used for washing organic vegetables. One is food-grade hydrogen peroxide, 35%. This should be diluted down to 3% in the wash water. That would be one part 35% H2O2, to 11 parts water. This product is corrosive, so handle it at full strength only when wearing long rubber gloves and goggles. H2O2 can degrade organic materials, bacteria, and organically approved or non-acceptable pesticide residues.
Another product is peroxyacetic acid, with Tsunami, a brand name for this blended product. Use this at dilution noted in the instructions. It is advisable that a final clean water rinse be done after the use of hydrogen peroxide or peroxyacetic acid before putting into long-term storage.
Let the root vegetables mostly dry before putting into storage. Some producers put these in large food-grade plastic bags in open-top totes to retain some moisture. Periodically check to make sure the roots are not too moist and getting moldy. For very long storage, you want some moisture so the roots do not dry out. Packing root vegetables in clean, slightly damp sand also works.
Chlorine also can be used, but only in fairly low concentrations. The organic regulations require that the effluent after washing contain no more than 4 PPM chlorine, which is the level allowed in drinking water. You can have your concentrations higher when washing the produce, but the chlorine must basically all be consumed and volatilized by the action the chlorine has on the bacteria and organic matter in the water. This makes the use of chlorine on a small-scale farm more problematic, since you will need to test the waste water to verify you meet the regulatory requirements.
First, you need to make sure that they are actually fruit flies. Fruit flies are often confused with a different insect called a fungus gnat. Fruit flies have red eyes, a round body and tend to hover or fly pretty slowly. They are slower moving while walking on the ground, too.
Fruit flies need overripe, damaged or rotting fruit in order to feed and breed. They are also known as vinegar flies, and are attracted to the smell of acetic acid (rotting fruit and vegetables). If you keep these materials out of the greenhouse, you are not likely to have fruit fly problems. Clean up damaged fruit and remove ripe fruit as soon as possible. The old baited fly trap with vinegar and a little soap works well to reduce their numbers, but you have to control the food source with good sanitation to get rid of fruit flies completely.
If your sanitation is good, and you are still seeing small files, they are likely fungus gnats. Fungus gnats are quite fast, both in the air and on the ground, are more thin bodied and do not have colored eyes.
Fungus gnats breed in the organic matter of soil mixes that are kept too wet and thus breeds molds, which the fungus gnat larvae feed upon. The solutions to control fungus gnats are to avoid overwatering plants in the greenhouse, improve drainage, and allow the potting soil to dry in between each watering.
Fungus gnats are not harmful to plants, but the conditions they like are also the same conditions that can lead to fungal and bacterial diseases.
Either fly problem is best solved by cultural techniques, rather than approved sprays.
I know I am supposed to plant organic seeds if I sell my crop production as organic. How do I accomplish this?
The National Organic Program (NOP) mandates the use of organic seed for crops that will be sold as organic unless you can show that you could not find the quality, quantity or equivalent variety of seed you wanted to plant. Under no circumstance can seeds treated with GMO nitrogen-fixing bacteria or non-approved synthetic fungicides or insecticides be used when you sell your crop in the marketplace as organic. This rule also applies to producers who sell less than $5,000 in organically labeled products, making them exempt from organic certification (but not from following organic standards). If prohibited materials are used on the seed, or a GMO seed is planted, the land cannot be used for organic production for three years.
More and more seed companies are developing organic seed varieties that function well in organic systems to meet the demand of the organic marketplace. By supporting organic seed suppliers, you encourage further research and development of organic seeds that compete well with weeds, grow vigorously with slow-release fertility inputs and are resistant to disease and pests. Also, certified organic seed would never have prohibited seed treatments.
An excellent resource for finding organic seed of all types is the website www.organicseedfinder.com. Field crops, vegetables, fruits, herbs and flower sources are all listed. This website is also helpful for finding seed suppliers that would be the most likely to carry organic seed varieties.
A broader list of organic seed suppliers is in the Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory. The “Seed Suppliers” section lists not only suppliers of seed, but also farms that supply seed potatoes or grow crops for seed. The directory also is available in print. You may request a copy by calling the MOSES office at 715-778-5775.
If the specific variety of seed you want is not available, you are required to purchase organic seed of an equivalent variety. If you are unsure if the organic variety is similar or equivalent, consider purchasing some organic seed and trialing out new organic varieties to see if they do as well as the non-organic seed that you are used to growing. Remember, the NOP does not consider price to be a valid reason not to purchase organic seed.
If you plant untreated non-organic seed, you will need to document why your search for organic seed was unsuccessful—quantity, quality, and variety are all valid reasons for buying non-organic seed. For example, the organic seed only came in one-ounce packets and you wanted to purchase 20 pounds (quantity). Or, the organic seed germination rate was only 20%, and the non-organic seed had a germination rate of 95% (quality). Or, you wanted to grow an orange oxheart tomato, and could not find it from at least three sources that typically sell organic seed (variety). Searching at your local garden center which does not typically sell organic seed is not considered a viable organic seed search by most certification agencies. You should be trying to find organic seed from the many suppliers that offer it. Even a search on the Internet for organic seed varieties can be fruitful.
Organic seed can be in short supply. It is a good idea to start your organic seed searches in winter and not wait until late spring when they often are sold out.
I would like to purchase an older sprayer that had been used with prohibited synthetic materials. Can I do this and use this sprayer to apply products approved for organic production?
Yes, you can purchase and use this sprayer. However, you will need to perform some cleaning and refurbishment activities and document these before you may use it on organic land.
Most certifiers recommend a clear water rinse first. Completely fill the tank and spray it until empty on non-organic land. Second, fill the tank again with diluted household ammonia, such as one quart of ammonia per 125 gallons. Run this through the sprayer again on non-organic land. Perform another clear water rinse as above. If you continue to smell the residues of the prohibited chemicals, do another ammonia and clear water rinse again. Poly tanks are porous so you may need to repeat this procedure a few times.
Replace all rubber parts including hoses, washers, and nozzles with new ones, as these are very difficult to clean completely.
Many certifiers require that once you have converted this piece of equipment from non-organic to organic production, you can no longer use it for spraying prohibited materials. In other words, if you are sharing this piece of equipment with a non-organic farmer, or you manage split production on your own farm, you may need to dedicate this sprayer, once cleaned, to organic and not go back and forth between organic and non-organic use, even if you perform this cleaning activity each time. Check with your certification agency on its policy for sprayer use to see if it mandates dedication to organic.
As we enter the time of mid-summer bounty, the pollinators and beneficial insects are busy sipping up the nectar and pollen from your flowering plants. Nectar provides energy, and pollen is high in protein. If you are managing bees, you’ll want to research specific mixes of flowering plants that provide a good balance of both nectar and pollen. If you are a farmer who wants to make sure your farm’s beneficial pollinators have plenty to eat, you have a variety of options. Nature provides a diverse assortment of plants that flower from early spring into the fall, ensuring a good food supply for pollinators all season long.
Your first option is to ensure you have plenty of perennial and native plants on your acreage. Buffer strips of native prairie flowers and grasses are a functional and beautiful addition to larger acreages; perimeter buffers work well on smaller plots. Native flowering plants and perennials not only feed pollinators throughout the season, but also hold soil from erosion and buffer your land from neighboring farm chemicals. These plants also are easy to maintain and tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions.
Establishing native prairie and perennials can take a few years. A good resource to help you in this endeavor is the Organic Broadcaster story “Native prairie plantings can be established without using herbicides” by Harriet Behar, MOSES Senior Organic Specialist. You can find it online at https://mosesorganic.org/native-prairie-plantings.
A shorter term option to feed your pollinators is to plant annual flowering cover crops on your land that will grow fast, while improving soil and feeding wildlife, but winterkill to be easily tilled in when spring comes. Diversity of cropping not only feeds your pollinators, but cover crops are a great source of green manure and biomass for your soil. All of the following crops will die over winter and be ready for spring tillage.
Calendula – For small to medium acreages, this useful flower is easy to grow, and blooms its pretty head off all season long. When the flowers die, it can be mowed, then will come back and flower as many as three times during the growing season.
Sunflowers – There are many single stem and branching varieties with various grow times, some as fast as 60 days. You can seed them in July and enjoy them in September until the frost. Sunflower heads make a great bird feast during winter, while holding soil from erosion. Note: don’t leave over winter in a field you’d like to plant early because the thick stems will take some time to break down after spring tillage.
Buckwheat – Buckwheat is a wonderful warm season cover crop. The flowers attract many different beneficial insects and birds. It germinates well and canopies quickly to suppress weeds as it matures in 70-90 days. Buckwheat is also reported to extract soil phosphorus.
Phacelia – Another wonderful cover crop for large or small acreages, this flower is highly frost tolerant and loaded with pollen, or protein. It germinates in 5-10 days, grows fast for weed suppression, and has excellent ability to accumulate and recycle excess nitrates and calcium. Plant phacelia with overwintering crimson clover for a cocktail that will not only feed pollinators during the end of the season (phacelia), and also fix nitrogen and feed pollinators in spring (crimson clover).
Cowpea – A heat-loving legume, the cowpea or black-eyed pea not only suppresses weeds and sources nitrogen in the heat of the summer, it has “extrafloral nectaries” on petioles and leaflets that beneficial insects love to eat. Cowpeas can be planted with sorghum Sudangrass, which they’ll climb. The two together create a lot of biomass. Make sure to plant cowpeas in July at the latest, as they are not frost tolerant and require 60-90 days to mature.
Organic farming is a long-term process. Always start the year before by planting a good cover crop, something that will over-winter and return in spring like cereal rye, clover or vetch. If that didn’t happen, or if you’re farming your acreage more intensively, you can also start with a spring cover crop like a mix of field peas and oats. You can research your cover crop options to find the best mix for your soil needs. A good place to start is with the MOSES fact sheet “How to Choose Cover Crops“.
To ensure optimal nitrogen value and also create a good amount of biomass for soil microbes without allowing the cover crop to set seed, incorporate the cover crop in early to mid-June. By starting early, but not too early, you leave yourself enough time to work out many of the residual weed seeds in your field. Incorporate the cover crop the first time, then wait 10 days or so and work your field again, by tilling, cultivating or plowing, using whatever machinery and method you usually use for bed prep. Depending on the weather (always), you’ll ideally get another nice weed flush right before you plant. Prep your bed as usual right before planting by cultivating or tilling, then plant your brassica transplants.
The nutritious vegetable that they are, brassicas are heavy soil feeders. Making sure your soil macronutrients are balanced is key. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels need to be balanced, and not too high or low. Trace nutrients like manganese and boron can also make a big difference in the quality of your brassica crop. Soil tests (soiltest.cfans.umn.edu, uwlab.soils.wisc.edu) applied to fertility practice are important to start with because it’s really hard to make drastic changes in your soil chemistry at any time, especially in the thick of the season.
Some symptoms of out-of-balance soil resulting in nutrient deficiencies:
• Light yellow color and/or premature head formation also called “buttoning” can be a nitrogen deficiency.
• Too much nitrogen can cause the plants to grow too fast also resulting in a hollow stem.
• Large pest infestations can mean your plant isn’t healthy and can’t defend itself.
• Iron can inhibit calcium uptake, causing localized browning.
• Phosphorus deficiency, especially when the phosphorus can’t move in the cold of later fall, can cause the plant to turn purple.
• Boron deficiency can cause a hollow brassica stem, and browning and uneven heads.
Starting with healthy transplants is always essential to healthy produce. One of the most difficult parts of growing fall brassicas is having to care for the transplants in the greenhouse while you’re in the thick of summer harvest. Starting the seeds in a good soil mix, watering consistently, and applying a foliar feed or root drench fertilizer to boost your brassica plant’s health prior to transplanting can make all the difference in the health of your final product. Another option is to create a healthy seed bed in the field, seed with your varieties and bare root transplant from that. For more on this, see extension.umn.edu/garden-yard/vegetables/growing-broccoli-cabbage-and-cauliflower-in-minnesota.
If you’re buying seed varieties as most produce farmers do, ask the farmers in your area what has worked for them, and also try a few different varieties to find what works for you.
When the plants are in the ground, the best way to balance deficiencies is to either side-dress or foliar feed the plants. Going back to those soil tests and symptom list, you can know what you might need to attend to the health of your growing brassicas and create a mix of fertilizer and minerals in a hopper to be side-dressed once or twice throughout the growth life.
Companies such as Midwestern Bio-Ag can work with you to read your soil tests and provide inputs to balance your soil. You can also try a few different products to find what works best.
At our farm, we foliar feed our brassicas weekly with a fish emulsion mixed with Photo Mag, both OMRI-approved applications. Our soil was in conventional production up until last year, and shows some deficiencies in most everything, including the trace minerals like boron. It’s been really important to give those brassicas feeders good additional nutrition as they grow this season.
Your primary piece of equipment to ensure long-lasting flowers of most varieties is a cooler. You need to be able to take the field heat out of the flowers and hold them until delivery at about 40 degrees.
One easy and inexpensive option is to build your own cooler. Many flower growers build relatively inexpensive 8×12 coolers using foam insulation, a store-bought 18,000-BTU window air conditioner, and a “CoolBot”—a $300 piece of machinery that helps the A/C unit to cool the space to as low as 35 degrees.
Cleanliness of all your tools is of utmost importance. The “godmother of flower farming,” Lynn Byczinski, likes to say, “Keep your vases as clean as your teacups.” The same goes for buckets and clippers. Install an easily accessible, easily cleaned bucket-washing station. Certified organic growers can use biodegradable soap for washing, along with a little bit of bleach or hydrogen peroxide for sanitizing. Wash and sanitize your buckets after every use.
Many flower growers use hydrator and preservative in the water, but the research is unclear on whether or not these make a difference. Hydrator helps the stems take up water efficiently from the first cut, ensuring longer vase life. Preservatives have a sugar to feed the flowers, and a bactericide to kill the inevitable bacteria produced—the “slime” that you see in a vase of old flowers. There is one hydrating and preserving product on the market that certified organic growers can use called Vita Flora (vitaproducts.com/floracare.html).
Once you’ve installed a cooler, and have your squeaky clean buckets and clippers, the next step is timing your flower harvest. Flowers keep best when harvested in the cool morning or evening. In the morning, flowers are most turgid and very fresh. In the evening after photosynthesizing all day, they have the most carbohydrates to give them a long life. Either way, it’s best to harvest in temps under 80 degrees, while steering clear of times when dew is on the flowers. Wetness on the petals can lead to disease and fungus during storage. If you harvest in the morning, it’s important to hit that sweet spot between when the dew dries and the day gets too hot.
Every flower has its own peak time to harvest to ensure longer vase life. For example, sunflowers can be harvested and kept in the cooler the moment the first petal lifts from the center. That’s not the case for dahlias, which won’t open any further after you harvest. You’ll want to get to know each flower’s peak harvest time. Learning the ins and outs, and likes and dislikes of each specific flower can take years! That’s why it’s so important to work with other growers as you begin flower farming on your own. (Consider applying for a flower mentor through our Farmer-to-Farmer Mentor Program.)
The importance of cleanliness in flower harvest and handling can’t be emphasized enough, and that continues into how you cut and strip the flowers. Again, start with clean clippers. Most flowers can be cut and stripped in the field for efficiency and speed. But, if it has been especially rainy and the stems are muddy, you may want to cut the flowers and bring them to your processing area to strip the leaves and clean them up.
As you harvest, strip and put your flowers in buckets. Keep the harvested flowers in the shade, never in direct sunlight, and deliver to the cooler frequently as you go. Taking that field heat out of the flowers as quickly as possible after harvest does wonders for their longevity.
A few flowers do better when they’re not cooled, most notably, the zinnia. Zinnias like to be in the shade, but not cooled, and never harvested when they’re wet. I’ve learned that the hard way; they’ll turn to mush in a day or two.
You can ensure the continued longevity of your certified organic flowers when they’re out of your hands by educating your customers. Let them know to keep vases as clean as teacups, and replace the water and rinse the stems daily. To achieve even longer vase life, customers can give the flowers a fresh cut every other day, and display them out of direct sunlight. You have given your beautiful local, certified organic flowers a great start. By following these few easy tips, your buyers can enjoy them for several weeks.
I buy only certified organic ingredients for a food product that I roast and blend in order to sell a finished beverage to the public. I sell more than $5,000 a year of this product. Can I label it as organic?
The word organic on a retail food label is a guarantee to consumers that the entire process, from seed through field production, storage, sales and any food processing is reviewed and approved as meeting the organic regulations. Since you sell more than $5,000 per year of product that you wish to sell as organic, as the processor, you must be certified in order to use the word organic on the product label.
Organic ingredients alone are not sufficient for using the word organic on a product—the processing facility also must be certified organic. A certified food processor goes through a similar annual certification process as a farmer or rancher.
If you choose not to be certified, you may identify which ingredients are organic on your product’s ingredient list. However, you cannot label the finished product on the principal label as organic, nor use the USDA organic seal on the package.
To label your finished beverage something like “Organic Roasted Vanilla Coffee,” all ingredients or inputs either must be certified organic or on the National List of approved ingredients if they are synthetic. Recipes for each product you wish to label as organic, along with the production methods, needs to be included in your Organic System Plan that a certification agency will review.
Sanitation and pest management materials and protocols must also be documented. Processed organic food products have their own sections on the National List of approved pest control inputs, sanitation products, ingredients and more. Reviewing an organic certifier’s organic system plan will provide you with the information you need to prepare the necessary documentation if you decide to become certified. Pay special attention to the organic regulation section on labeling, which specifies the colors of the USDA organic seal, font size of the word organic and placement of your organic certifier’s name.
If you grew, processed and sold less than $5,000 in annual sales of organically labeled products, then, under the small operator exemption from certification, you could label the product as organic without going through and achieving organic certification. You would still need to follow all of the organic regulations, including use of approved sanitation materials and processes, approved pest management strategies, documentation that all ingredients were either certified organic or on the National List, etc. Again, a review of a sample Handler Organic System Plan would help you prepare and maintain the records you need to have to meet the law. You still could not use the USDA organic seal on your package—that is reserved for certified organic operations only. Most organic certification agencies have Handler Organic System Plans on their websites.
The National Organic Program regulations are here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic. Since each product and process is unique, it would be best to contact the MOSES Organic Answer Line if you have more questions.
Resources & Research
Market Farming Resources
- Commercial Kitchen Guide
Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture provides this guide that gives details on the regulatory steps required to start or operate in a commercial kitchen to create value-added products for resale.
- FarmFan app
Small Farm Central has created this customer support tool for farmers who market directly to consumers. Farmers can alert customers with market-day “Fresh today” text messages, then reward customers for purchases over time with premiums at set levels. The farmer sets the reward levels and the rewards: discounts, product, or on-farm experiences. The app gives farmers a way to track customer purchases as well as generate sales. It works with any digital device. Small Farm Central is offering farmers in the MOSES community 20% off the monthly app fee. Use the code mosesfan for the discount.
- Food Labeling
A free ebook, FDA Food Label: Requirements in a Nutshell, simplifies the complex FDA requirements for proper food labeling for nutrition facts, ingredients and other necessary information. This book doesn’t address use of the organic seal—learn more about this here.
- Food Safety Decision Tools
The national Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) website has added farm food safety “decision trees” to help farmers identify risks and implement food-safe practices. Nine decision trees are available, including worker hygiene, soil amendments, wildlife management, and postharvest handling. Each decision tree includes samples of recordkeeping logs and standard operating procedures, as well as template farm food safety plans.
- Iowa State University and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture have created a Sustainable Vegetable Production website to share results from research on strategies that enhance vegetable production and cropping systems. Topics include transplant production, season extension, cover cropping, plasticulture, biochar, soil biology, nutrient management and food quality aspects. The website’s purpose is to help growers reduce input costs, improve crop and soil health, and create cropping system efficiencies.
- Managing Small Urban Farmers Markets
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has created a handbook for mini-farmers-market managers.
- Manuals on Organic Plant Breeding
Organic Seed Alliance just published four organic plant breeding manuals to encourage organic farmers to participate in developing varieties suited to organic systems. The manuals include an introduction to plant breeding and three crop-specific manuals that provide step-by-step instruction for identifying good breeding material and maintaining a new variety for quality and uniformity.
- Networking Small Urban Farmers Markets
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has created a new guide based on its experience trying to get fresh produce into food deserts in Minneapolis by setting up mini farmers markets. This manual shows how IATP served as the “umbrella organization” in a network of 15-21 urban neighborhood markets with five or fewer vendors.
- Online GAP courses
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach now offers free online food safety training modules for farmers’ market managers and vendors. The four modules cover good agricultural practices (GAP) for pre-harvest, post-harvest, marketing and best practices at the market, and value-added products. Participants receive a Certificate of Completion to display at their market stall.
- Organic Certification of Farms and Businesses Producing Agricultural Products
Created as part of the USDA’s Organic Literacy Initiative to connect organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with the USDA resources available to them. Include information about organic requirements and best practices, and explain the certification process.
- Organic Labeling at Farmer’s Markets
A National Organic Program fact sheet listing the requirements for exempt organic producers.
- Organic Seed Finder
The centralized database offers a way for organic growers to find reliable sources for organic seed. Seed vendors pay a fee to post on the site, which provides free access to growers. The site was created to make it easier to find certified organic seeds and to expand overall organic production. Created by the Organic Seed Alliance and the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies.
- 2014 Organic Seed Growers Conference Webinars
The series features six sessions covering specific topics in the areas of organic plant breeding, organic seed production, and policy. The series also includes a welcome address from Organic Seed Alliance and a keynote address from Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds.
- Selling to Restaurants
The Local Food Marketplace recently published the “Food Hub’s Guide to Selling to Restaurants,” with tips on breaking into the wholesale market. The guide was written by Ryan Crum (a former chef), who offers insights on approaching a restaurant, developing a marketing plan, planning for growth, and a list of Dos and Don’ts.
- Skip the Market: 6 Other Ways Your Farm Can Make Money
Lisa Kivirist writes for Hobby Farm Magazine on how to diversify your income stream through outlets other than farmers’ markets. Her ideas expand over hosting off-site farm-to-table dinners, trading words for cash, selling directly to chefs, raising something niche, cultivating craft supplies, and supplying food artisans.
- Soil Fertility Project – Ohio State University
Research team looking for farmer feedback. The aim is to jump-start the process of updating soil fertility recommendations for commercial vegetable growers. Small to mid-scale field and high tunnel growers who manage operations that produce multiple crops may benefit most from this project. The goal is to provide the opportunity to contribute to this study to as many vegetable growers as possible. Participation is free, quick and confidential. Details are explained at the project website where growers, consultants and others are invited to participate.
- Spotlight on Specialty Crops
Informative series featuring one-minute stories about Minnesota farmers who are growing specialty crops to enhance production, profitability, and personal satisfaction on their farms.
- Urban Farming Resources
Tips from the 2014 MOSES Conference workshop “Farming in the City,” presented by Anne Pfieffer, Julie Dawson, Alex Liebman, and Claire Strader.
- Urban Farming Resources
A new set of free resources guides urban farmers through the business planning process. The Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook, and its complementary Urban Farm Business Plan Worksheets were created by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities through EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization. These resources are the result of a project that provided technical assistance to the Toledo Community Development Corporation to turn a tw0-plus-acre former industrial site into an urban farm.
- Vegetable Grafting Listserv
Created by the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State University, this listserv is open to anyone with a technical interest in preparing, using or evaluating grafted vegetable plants.
- Wisconsin Local Food Marketing Guide: A producer’s guide to marketing locally grown food
Published by the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (122 page PDF)
- Guide for Organic Processors
Created as part of the USDA’s Organic Literacy Initiative to connect organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with the USDA resources available to them. Include information about organic requirements and best practices, and explain the certification process.
- New website bolsters local food systems
The new Community and Local Food Resource website provides tools and resources to help farmers, extension educators, and communities build or strengthen their local food system. For farmers, the site offers resources on marketing to a local system, production ideas, and good agricultural practices. This USDA SARE project was led by a collaboration of the University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Buy Fresh Buy Local South Dakota; FARRMS (North Dakota), North Dakota State University Extension; and the Northwest Regional Partnership (Minnesota).
- The On-Farm Food Safety Project website offers resources to help fruit and vegetable farmers ensure their produce is safe to eat. The website includes a an online tool to create a customized on-farm food safety plans.
- Online Organic Grower Guides
Online organic resources for growing apples, beans, carrots, grapes, and more from Cornell University. (Although these guides were written primarily for New York growers, the recommendations are applicable to growers in other humid regions.)
- Organic Food Processing Basics (PDF)
MN Department of Agriculture Fact Sheet
- Transplant Production Decision Tool
A new online tool can help vegetable growers in the Upper Midwest select the best system for transplant production on their farm. Producing transplants allows farmers to mitigate risk and get a jumpstart on the growing season. Transplants are germinated and grown in a controlled environment and then replanted in the field. This new online tool provides information about options, challenges and costs for every step of this process, from choosing a growing tray to ‘hardening’ the plants for field conditions.
The tool includes profiles of six vegetable farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as photo galleries of infrastructure, equipment and crops. A one-page matrix summarizes the costs, skill level, benefits and drawbacks of various options for transplant equipment.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture awarded a grant to the Iowa Organic Association to compile the online tool. Chris Blanchard, organic farmer and consultant (Flying Rutabaga Works), developed the Transplant Production Decision Tool.
The Ruminant | April 2015
Ruth Genger, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin in Madison Organic Potato Project, joins The Ruminant to talk about the finer points of getting your potato production off to a great start. Ruth explains how to ensure your potato plants “jump out of the soil” by starting with high quality seed potatoes, and employing a few other important techniques. See more podcasts from The Ruminant.
From the Organic Broadcaster
Cottage food laws open doors to new sales opportunities for farmers by enabling us to create value-added products in our farm kitchens for public sale. Read more.
The market for herbal products is flourishing. This interest in herbal products offers organic farmers a unique opportunity to develop value-added products from herbs they grow. Read more.
Farm-to-school can be a good market for vegetable growers, orchards and value-added producers. These insights can help you get started. Read more.
Most farmers already are aware that insect, disease and weed pressure can be addressed through skillful use of cover crops. Now, think about cover crops as a way to “feed and care for your underground livestock” and you will have one more good reason to dedicate yourself to fitting cover crops into your vegetable rotations. Read more.
What makes a farm successful? Ask that question to just about any farmer and, while you’ll probably get a range of opinions and answers, there will be a few core common tenants: viable finances, a manageable workload…. Read more.
Farmers’ market produce labeling can be a tricky business. How do we best communicate our farming practices to our valued customers? Read more.
Ben Hartman’s The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work offers solutions to beginning farmer burn-out. Read more.
The U.S. FDA recently finalized two major rules—known informally as the “Produce Rule” and the Preventive Controls or “Facilities Rule”—under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Read more.
One of the biggest challenges for diversified vegetable growers, particularly those just starting their farm business, is determining their cost of production in order to set prices that ensure a profit. Read more.
Where once beer flowed off an assembly line, tilapia and leafy greens grow. Aquaponics facility, Urban Organics (UO) now grows thousands of pounds of fish and certified organic produce. Read more.
Cost of production is important in setting prices, which should differ with various markets. A price in each market should be based on the cost of production added to the cost to market, plus a margin of profit. Read more.
Bayfield Foods is proof that there often is great strength in collective marketing. The cooperative started when some local meat producers wanted to cross-market each other’s products…. Read more.
As a small-scale organic medicinal herb farmer myself, I was intrigued when I saw this recently published Chelsea Green book,The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer. Read more.
Through the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program, mushroom expert Joe Krawczyk has provided Jeremy McAdams with valuable insights…. Read more.
New Agrarians embody the movement for local, small-scale and sustainable food systems. These young farmers are passionate, resourceful and tech-savvy…. Read more.
Does the image of people dining on your farm, savoring meals made with your own farm-raised fare bring a smile to your face? Read more.
Biodegradable biobased mulch film was added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic production in October 2014. Read more.
Whether you operate your farm as a CSA or sell at farmers’ markets, transforming a bumper crop…. Read more.
Experts share tips for placing value-added products in stores
January | February 2015
You have a great product and you think you are ready to market it on a larger scale. Now what? Read more.
Seven years ago, Minnesota farmer Martin Diffley decided that sweet corn offerings in his seed catalogues weren’t cutting it. Read more.
Applesauce, tea, and maple syrup are among the goodies growers are making with the help of the USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program. Read more.
The potato is an important staple food—globally the fourth largest food crop after maize, wheat and rice. Read more.
Shoppers at People’s Food Co-op in Rochester, Minn. quickly snap up locally grown sweet potatoes produced by Sandy and Lonny Dietz at Whitewater Gardens Farm in Altura, Minn. Read more.
Through organic soil management practices, farmers foster a very important soil microbial and biochemical resource…. Read more.
This year I worked with a team of colleagues to start a teaching and incubator vegetable farm…. Read more.
As I got started in the world of market farming back in the early 1990s, Lynn Byczynzki’s magazine, Growing for Market, was a constant companion. Read more.
Urban agriculture means different things to different people. Community gardens, backyard plots, and educational youth gardens seem to be the most common…. Read more.
Scaling up to meet the demand for local food is all the rage these days, especially in the world of fresh produce. Read more.
Fruit and vegetable growers throughout the Midwest are familiar with the labor vs. machinery trade-off. Read more.
For Kat Becker and Tony Schultz, diversification creates more than a smart income risk management strategy for Stoney Acres Farm, their certified organic operation…. Read more.
High tunnels allow vegetable farmers to extend the growing season, but often require supplemental heat to protect plants during spring and fall cold spikes. Read more.
“Seeds are a sacred thing. Everything we have now is built on farmers selecting seeds for millennia. All of that genetic diversity is a great gift….” Read more.
Ask any seasoned organic grower, and they probably vividly remember their first day selling at a farmers’ market. Read more.
Change comes to us all. Sometimes slowly, purposefully, and gradually. Sometimes quickly, suddenly and unexpectedly. But one thing is certain, change comes. Read more.
Bramble berries—raspberries and blackberries—can be great additions to the diversified market farm or orchard. Read more.
An exciting new sector of the expanding agrarian movement is ‘second career’ farmers. Read more.
Work in the transplant house starts at a slow time of year for most vegetable growers, but continues as field operations and even harvest get under way. Read more.
Availability of locally grown strawberries is extremely limited in the Upper Midwest, primarily due to the short growing season. Read more.
Whether or not we like it, we all have relationships with those plants we call “weeds.” Read more.
Transplants offer jumpstart; transplant systems vary
January | February 2014
The long and miserable spring of 2013 highlighted the value of transplants for vegetable production in the Upper Midwest. Read more.
As the soil rests under a cover of snow, farmers’ minds drift to planning for next season’s production. Read more.
As produce farmers, we can’t eliminate the risk of microbial contamination in our food production. Read more.
How to Navigate Cottage Food Laws
November | December 2013
If you regularly have an abundance of tomatoes you’d love to turn into salsa to sell at your local farmers’ market…. Read more.
When I got started in organic farming over twenty years ago I worked on three vegetable farms before anyone even said the words, “food safety.” Read more.
Increase Tomato Plant Vigor and Yield through Grafting
March | April 2013
Envision a 30 to 50 percent increase in the yield of ripe fruit harvested from tomato plants healthy in the hoophouse from March through October. Read more.
For many farmers, winter certainly does bring the white stuff. But it isn’t snow. Read more.
When I opened a pre-print copy of Wholesale Success I was thrilled to find…. Read more.