Ask a Specialist  |  Resources & Research  |  From the Organic Broadcaster


Orchard Fact Sheets:

1. Considering Risk Before Starting an Organic Orchard
2. Organic Tree Fruit Certification
3. Planning the Organic Orchard
4. Resources for Organic Orchardists
5. Managing Pests & Diseases in an Organic Apple Orchard


Ask an Organic Specialist: Orchard Answers

Can I sell organic fruits and vegetables from plants and planting stock I buy at my local garden center?

Answer by Organic Specialist Harriet Behar:

You probably will not be able to buy plants at your local garden store. When using annual transplants (tomatoes, peppers, onion plants etc.), the plants must be certified organic in order to sell organic produce from them in any given crop year.

The land you raise them on must be free of prohibited materials for 36 months prior to your first organic harvest. If you have planted nonorganic annual transplants in the same fields in the past, your certification agency may consider the land to be nonorganic, and require you to wait three years after that planting to have your first organic harvest. This decision may depend on whether the plants were bare root or were transplanted with their nonorganic potting mix. There is some difference between certifiers.Some allow one year to pass and others require three years. The interpretation of this regulation is something you want to discuss with your certification agency if you are requesting organic certification for the first time.

Your transplants cannot be purchased from an “exempt from certification” (under the $5,000 limit) operation. They must be certified organic, grown by you or someone else who has a valid organic certificate. Some natural food stores may be able to provide you with an organic certificate for the plants they sell, but most garden centers do not sell certified organic transplants.

You can grow the transplants yourself, using approved planting media which does not contain any synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, wetting agents or other prohibited materials. These items are not mandated to be listed on the label of commercially available potting media, so you must get information in writing from the manufacturer detailing the ingredients, stating that the media has not been treated with prohibited fungicides, insecticides, etc. There are many organically approved potting mix and input suppliers. For resources, see the MOSES Resource Directory or the OMRI Products List (www.omri.org)

Be very careful when purchasing any fertility input or potting mix, since the word “organic” on these items does not always mean the same thing as “approved for organic production.” Long before the USDA organic regulation, the word “organic” on a label meant it contained the element carbon. To find products you can use, you must look for the OMRI seal and the words “approved for organic production.” Always verify with your organic certification agency that whatever you want to use is acceptable before you buy it.

For fruit trees, raspberry bushes, or other perennials, you are mandated to search for organic planting stock. However, if you cannot find the variety, quality or quantity you want as organic, you can use non-organic planting stock. You must document this search.

In a recent National Organic Program guidance it was clarified that an organic harvest from non-organic planting stock can be done immediately after beginning organic management and planting into organic soil. However, you cannot create and sell organic planting stock from parent nonorganic stock until it has been managed organically for 12 months. For example, you can plant non-organic strawberry plants and harvest an organic crop that same year after planting (after failing to find commercially available organic plants) whether you manage the strawberries as an annual or a perennial. If you buy a non-organic tarragon plant, you can sell the tarragon as organic immediately after planting in organic soil, but could not make cuttings and sell those as organic tarragon plants for 12 months.

Items such as potatoes, garlic, and sweet potatoes (in other words, roots, tubers, rhizomes, shoots, leaf or stem cuttings) are subject to the organic search, and can be planted as non-organic if none were found. However, each year there is more and more availability of these items as organic, and your search must truly cover not just your local store, but also the many mail order and internet operations that sell these items.

I can’t find enough certified organic blueberry plants to upscale my certified organic berry farm. What do you suggest?

Answer by Organic Specialist Jennifer Nelson:

The National Organic Program defines planting stock as “any plant or plant tissue other than annual seedlings, but including rhizomes, shoots, leaf or stem cuttings, roots, or tubers, used in plant production or propagation.” The NOP regulation applies to the details of the growing methods of the plants. Certified farms must use organic planting stock, bulbs, roots and cuttings except when these are not commercially available. If you cannot find your preferred blueberry variety, or can’t get sufficient quality or quantities for the scale of your operation, you can use non-organic planting stock.

As with all seed and planting stock searches, you have to provide your certifier with good documentation of your search. And of course, price cannot be a consideration for determination of commercial availability.

Each year, the availability of certified organic planting stock grows. More varieties, better quality and bigger quantities become available. It’s the age-old high school economics supply-and-demand lesson in action.

To find planting stock, you can Google “certified organic planting stock” for your area, or “certified organic blueberry plants,” using the specific variety you‘re looking for. This will help you find local plant nurseries that carry certified organic plant stock. Another great resource may be the organic growers in your area. Networking with the other certified organic growers in your area can be a great benefit in many ways to everyone involved.

If you’ve exhausted all your options for finding the variety, quality and quantity that you need, and you’ve kept really good records of your search, you can begin to explore other options. NOP regulation states that you can purchase a non-organic plant and sell its fruit the next day as certified organic fruit with some exceptions—the regulation is in the details. If the purchased non-organic plant has been grown in planting media containing any synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, wetting agents or other prohibited materials or has been treated with prohibited fungicides or insecticides, these are prohibited substances, and so the fruit cannot be certified organic. Not only that, if you introduce these prohibited substances to your certified organic soil, you may risk needing to re-transition your soil for another 36 months.

Buying non-organic bare-root plants rather than potted plants is the best way to avoid these unwanted materials. If you can verify and document that your bare-root planting stock hasn’t been treated with any prohibited materials, you can plant the new planting stock in your organic soil and sell the fruit as certified organic.

Only the fruit can be sold as organic. The planting stock, crowns or bulbs off the newly purchased non-organic plant must be in your certified organic ground, grown according to NOP regulation for 12 months before the plants can be sold as organic. Since most perennial fruit-stock will not produce a commercial crop the first year of planting, this probably would not be an issue.

For example, after failing to find commercially available organic plants, you can plant non-organic blueberry plants and harvest an organic crop that same year after planting. However, you cannot sell any excess planting stock as organic blueberry plants for 12 months.

Ultimately, the search for certified organic planting stock is similar to the search for seeds. You have to keep good records of your steps. And while it’s best to find and support certified organic suppliers, you have other options if you’re unable to find what you need. As with all certification questions, call your certifying agency to be sure of what you’re bringing into your certified organic farm operation. 

Can I plant non-organic strawberry plants, and then sell the strawberries as organic?

Answer by Organic Specialist Harriet Behar:

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.


Resources & Research:

  • Organic Fire Blight Management
    eOrganic recently posted an article on managing fire blight organically. It includes details on how to identify the disease, susceptibility in apple and pear cultivars, and how to manage the disease through an integrated program.
  • Spotted Wing Drosophila
    Producers battling Spotted Wing Drosophila can find information online about the organic management of this invasive pest. Topics covered include using high tunnels and exclusion netting to reduce pressure in raspberries, the effects of non-nutrative sugars, border spray and between-row tillage, and more.
  • Guides to Disease Management in Small Fruits
    Small-fruit growers can learn about disease management through free publications proved by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. The guides focus on the most effective cultural practices, including sanitation, that can help prevent disease in small fruits. The series covers low-spray, no-spray, and organic production options for apples, peaches, grapes, brambles, strawberries, and blueberries.
  • Organic Fruit Growers Association
    A non-profit organization dedicated to serving the interests of organic fruit growers and advancing the organic fruit industry through education, research and advocacy.
  • Fire Blight Control Program in Organic Fruit (4 MB PDF)
    This 28-page report from The Organic Center provides the latest information on controlling fire blight in organic fruit production without the use of antibiotics. It includes highlights of emerging research plus lessons from growers who have implement­ed non-antibiotic fire blight control over the past decade. Successful non-antibiotic fire blight control centers on combining orchard management practices into an inte­grated systems approach which is multi-faceted, and marries effective fire blight prevention with fungal control, insect control, bloom thinning, spray coverage, tree training, soil and foliar nutrients, and cultivar and root stock selection.
  • 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.)


From the Organic Broadcaster:

Seasoned growers discuss springtime orchard chores
March | April 2015

Even though the orchard looks dormant in March, the trees need a lot of attention before they blossom in late spring. Read more.


Integrated systems approach needed to control fire blight without antibiotics
November | December 2014

There is no cure for fire blight (FB), and there is no single “silver bullet” (including antibiotics) that will prevent FB infection. Successful non-antibiotic FB control combines….  Read more.


Study examines how sharing equipment can help farmers scale up
September | October 2014

Fruit and vegetable growers throughout the Midwest are familiar with the labor vs. machin­ery trade-off.  Read more.


Thoughtful planning yields perennial crop of blue fruits
May | June 2014

Blue fruits (blueberries, black currants, elder­berries, aronia, and honeyberries) are quite popular in Europe, and are gaining popularity in the U.S. Read more.


Autumn Britten starts producing around the middle of August in east-central Minnesota, and tends to be somewhat more productive than other cultivars, with slightly larger and more elongated berries and taller canes.Choose hardy cultivars for best bramble berries
March | April 2014

Bramble berries—raspberries and blackberries—can be great additions to the diversified market farm or orchard. Read more.


Comments are closed.