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Organic Vegetable Production, NRAES-165

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Partial Funding
The Organic Vegetable Production workshop was partially funded by the Northeast Region Sustainable
Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is administered by the Cooperative State
Research Education and Extension Service and the USDA.

About the Workshop and Proceedings

The workshop was coordinated by Abby Seaman, Area Extension Educator, New York State Integrated
Pest Management Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension. The proceedings was edited by Abby Sea-

These meetings were intended for commercial vegetable growers who are currently growing organically
or want to learn more about organic practices, as well as beginners contemplating organic vegetable
production. University and farmer speakers covered the basics of soil and nutrient management, weed
management, and insect and disease management.

Thanks to Speakers
The workshop coordinator and NRAES would like to thank the speakers for their diligence in submit-
ting their papers for these proceedings.

To simplify information, trade names have been used in this publication. No endorsement of named
products is intended, nor is criticism implied of similar products that are not mentioned.

Proceedings Production
Jeffrey S. Popow, NRAES managing editor, designed the proceedings and managed the proceedings

See the inside back cover for information about NRAES, including contact information and a list of
NRAES member universities.
Cooperative Extension NRAES165

Proceedings from a
Three-Day Series of Meetings

Jordan Hall Auditorium

New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
Geneva, New York
January 1416, 2003

Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES)

Cooperative Extension
PO Box 4557
Ithaca, New York 14852-4557
March 2004

2004 by NRAES (Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service).

All rights reserved. Inquiries invited.

ISBN-13: 978-0-935817-96-6

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Contact NRAES if you have any questions.
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Phone: (607) 255-7654
Fax: (607) 254-8770
Web site:


About the Speakers................................................................................................................... vi

Soil and Nutrient Management

Soil Life..................................................................................................................................... 3
Janice Thies
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Cornell University

Interpreting Soil Test Results and Estimating Nutrient Availability.......................................... 6

John Howell
UMass Extension
University of Massachusetts

Tillage Practices for Maintaining Soil Quality........................................................................ 16

Harold van Es
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Cornell University

Compost and Cover Crops for Organic Vegetable Growers.................................................... 21

Brian Caldwell
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York

Soil and Nutrient Management Practices on Upingill Farm.................................................... 24

Cliff Hatch
Upingill Farm
Gill, Massachusetts

Soil and Nutrient Management Practices on Roxbury Farm................................................... 34

Jean-Paul Courtens
Roxbury Farm
Kinderhook, New York

Fertility Management at Roxbury Farm.................................................................................. 45

Jean-Paul Courtens
Roxbury Farm
Kinderhook, New York


Weed Management
Understanding Weed Biology.................................................................................................. 59
Charles L. Mohler
Crop and Soil Sciences
Cornell University

Weed Management on Organic Vegetable Farms.................................................................... 76

Vern Grubinger
University of Vermont Extension

How to Get 99% Weed Control without Chemicals................................................................ 83

Brian Caldwell
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York

Mulching for Weed Control and Organic Matter..................................................................... 87

Paul Arnold
Pleasant Valley Farm
Argyle, New York

Bio-Extensive Approach to Market Gardening...................................................................... 100

Anne and Eric Nordell
Beech Grove Farm
Beech Grove, Pennsylvania

A Few Long Furrows on Horsedrawn Tillage........................................................................ 105

Eric and Anne Nordell
Beech Grove Farm
Beech Grove, Pennsylvania


Insect and Disease Management

Impacts of Soil Quality on Disease and Insect Resistance in Plants..................................... 113
Anusuya Rangarajan
Dept. of Horticulture
Cornell University

Disease Management Strategies: Cultural Practices.............................................................. 120

Helene R. Dillard
Department of Plant Pathology
New York State Agricultural Experiment Station; Geneva, New York
Cornell Cooperative Extension

Cultural Practices for Disease Management.......................................................................... 123

Curtis Petzoldt
Integrated Pest Management Program
New York State Agricultural Experiment Station; Geneva, New York

Identifying and Encouraging Beneficial Insects.................................................................... 128

Michael P. Hoffmann
NYS IPM Program and Department of Entomology
Cornell University

Insect Management:
Managing Beneficial Habitats, Using Organic Insecticides.................................................. 136
Ruth Hazzard
Dept. of Entomology
University of Massachusetts Extension

Pest Management on Applefield Farm................................................................................... 142

Steve Mong
Applefield Farm
Stow, Massachusetts

Pest Management from a Farmers Perspective..................................................................... 152

David Marchant
River Berry Farm
Fairfax, Vermont

About the Speakers
Paul Arnold and Sandy Arnold have been farming at David Marchant and Jane Sorensen operate River Berry
Pleasant Valley Farm for 12 years and raise about 8 acres of Farm alongside the LaMoille River in the Champlain Basin
organic fruits and vegetables on their 60 acres in Washington of Vermont. They grow approximately 40 acres of certified
County, New York, with two children. Their living is made organic vegetables, 4 acres of IPM managed strawberries,
by selling all of their produce at 4 area farmers markets. and 15 acres of grain. The vegetables are marketed out of
state through the Deep Root Organic Cooperative, and lo-
Brian Caldwell is the education director for NOFA-NY. cally through stores and farmers markets.
He is also an experienced grower of organic vegetables and
fruit at Hemlock Grove Farm in West Danby, New York. Chuck Mohler is a senior research associate in the depart-
ment of Crop and Soil Sciences. Most of his work has
Jean-Paul Courtens, the founding farmer of Roxbury Farm, focused on the effects of tillage, cultivation, and crop residue
was born and raised in the Netherlands, where he studied on the population dynamics of annual weeds. He is a co-
biodynamic agriculture. Roxbury Farm grows vegetables, author of the book Ecological Management of Agricultural
herbs, melons, and strawberries using biodynamic practices Weeds.
on 148 acres in Kinderhook, New York for a CSA of 650
families in four communities. Steve Mong, his wife Kirsten, and brother Ray have operated
Applefield Farm for 20 years. It is a 25-acre farm with 20,000
Helene Dillard has conducted basic and applied research square feet in greenhouses, which are used for bedding plant,
on the biology, ecology, and management of fungal and hanging basket, annual, and perennial production. Steve has
bacterial pathogens of vegetables at the New York State been an active cooperator in University of Massachusetts
Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York since pest management trials.
1984. She has been the director of Cornell Cooperative
Extension, a primary outreach unit of Cornell University, Anne and Eric Nordell grow vegetables, herbs, and
since 2002. strawberries on 6.5 acres in Trout Run, Pennsylvania. They
have developed an elegant whole farm approach to nutrient
Vern Grubinger is the director of the Center for Sustainable and weed management. Their produce is marketed through
Agriculture at the University of Vermont. He has extensive grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers markets.
experience in many aspects of organic and sustainable veg-
etable and small fruit production. He is the author of the book Curt Petzoldt is the Assistant Director and Vegetable Coor-
Sustainable Vegetable Production from Startup to Market. dinator at the New York State IPM Program. For the past ten
years he has conducted multidisciplinary trials comparing
Cliff Hatch has over 20 years of experience in organic the environmental and economic attributes of conventional,
production. He grows a variety of vegetables, strawberries, IPM, and organic production systems at the research farm
and grains at Upingill Farm in Gill, Massachusetts. and on growers farms.

Ruth Hazzard is team leader for the Vegetable Program Anu Rangarajan is an associate professor in the Department
and also coordinates the Integrated Crop and Pest Manage- of Horticulture at Cornell and statewide specialist for Fresh
ment Project for vegetables. Her research has focused on Market Vegetable Production. Her research program focuses
insect and disease management in brassicas, sweet corn, on specialty crop variety trials, and developing production
tomato, and peppers. Currently she is involved with studies systems that minimize chemical fertilizer and pesticide
on biointensive insect management in brassicas, cucurbits, inputs and maximize crop nutritive value.
and sweet corn.
Janice Thies is an associate professor of soil biology who
Mike Hoffmann is the director of the New York State IPM joined the Cornell faculty in 2000. Janices research program
Program and a professor in the Department of Entomology focuses on three main areas: soil microbial population genet-
in Ithaca. His research and extension program focuses on ics, the influence of management practices on soil microbial
alternative insect management strategies. community structure, and the development of biofertilisers
and biopesticides for use in low-input agriculture.
John Howell recently retired as Extension Vegetable
Specialist at the University of Massachusetts. His areas Harold van Es joined the Cornell faculty in 1988. His
of special interest include vegetable production systems, research, extension, and teaching programs address the
nutrient and soil management, greenhouse tomato produc- management of soil and water resources for sustainable
tion, trickle irrigation and fertigation, and water garden agricultural production and environmental protection. He
construction and maintenance. is a co-author of the book Building Soils for Better Crops.

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Soil and
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Soil Life
Janice Thies
Associate Professor
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Cornell University

The diverse and numerous creatures living in the soil Soil arthropods
provide a variety of benefits to crops and but also have
potential detriments. The benefits include the decom-
position of organic matter, nutrient cycling and release, There are four major groups of soil arthropods. Preda-
nitrogen fixation and mycorrhizal relationships, disease tors such as ants, ground beetles, and spiders help con-
suppression, and soil structure improvement. Potential trol crop pests. Another group including dung beetles,
detriments include immobilization of nutrients and the mites, and sow bugs shred organic matter. Fungal feed-
ability to cause plant and animal disease. ers such as springtails and turtle mites release nutrients
tied up in fungal biomass. And herbivores such as mole
crickets and symphylans can cause crop damage by
Soil food web feeding on roots. Functional roles of arthropods include
shredding of organic matter which stimulates microbial
activity, mixing microbes with organic matter, miner-
The complex network interactions that occur between alizing plant nutrients, increasing aggregation of soil,
organisms in the soil is sometimes described as the burrowing, which increases soil channels, preying on
soil food web. Plants are the foundation of the soil other arthropods, and feeding on plants.
food web, capturing energy from the sun through
photosynthesis and providing the organic matter that
other organisms work on. Decomposers such as bac- Earthworms
teria and fungi work on the material produced by the
plants releasing nutrients in a form that is usable by
plants. Small arthropods, nematodes, protozoa, and Earthworms are another important group soil or-
earthworms shred and consume the organic matter ganisms, considered by some to be soil ecosystem
produced by the plants, making it more available to the engineers. They move tremendous amounts of soil
bacteria and fungi, and also consume the bacteria and through their guts as they burrow. In the process, they
fungi themselves, releasing plant-available nutrients. stimulate microbial activity, mix and aggregate soil,
Larger arthropods and small mammals then consume increase soil infiltration rate and water holding capac-
the smaller creatures releasing more nutrients. ity, create channels for plant roots, and bury and shred
plant residues.

Soil and Nutrient Management 3

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Nematodes mycorrhizae, such as many ectomycorrhizae, are

good saprophytes, and function independent of plants.
The ectomycorrhizae associate primarily with trees.
Soil nematodes are very small (300-500 m), ubiq- These associations consist of a sheath surrounding
uitous and abundant in soils. They depend on water the root and limited intercellular penetration between
films on soil particles to swim and survive. They have cells in the root cortex. The endomycorrhizae associ-
a range of feeding strategies including plant parasites, ate primarily with crop plants. In this symbiosis, the
bacterial and fungal feeders, predators, or omnivores. fungi penetrate the root cortex to form an intimate
The different types of nematodes can be distinguished relationship with host cortical cells. In both symbio-
by their mouthparts. Plant parasitic nematodes have ses the integrity of the plant cell membrane remains
a characteristic stylet with a basal bulb, to penetrate intact and is the site of nutrient exchange with the
roots. Bacterial feeders have a wide mouth opening fungus. In general, mycorrhizae improve the nutrient
to gather in bacteria. To evaluate the health of a soil, status of the plants (especially for phosphorus), and
some researchers examine the ratio of different types may protect plants from exposure to salt, desiccation,
of nematodes. Their functional roles in soils are to feed toxins or pathogens. The plant provides energy to the
on bacteria, fungi, and protozoa and in turn release mycorrhizae in the form of carbon compounds. The
plant available-nutrients, feed on other soil organic external fungal hyphae explore more soil volume than
matter, affecting soil structure and carbon utilization, the root itself, especially for phosphorus. This element
or parasitize plants and animals. is quickly depleted within a zone of 1 mm of the root,
and does not move any further in soil. For nitrogen,
the depletion zone is 10 mm from the root. The hyphae
Protozoa extend this depletion zone for phosphorous. These
fungi increase soil stabilization. Tillage, monoculture,
fungicides, and long fallows can deplete mycorrhizal
Three types of protozoa can be found in soil: ciliated, populations.
flagellated or amoeboid. They are animal cells (which
have no cell walls, just the cell membrane), and are
therefore susceptible to and good indicators of the Bacteria
presence of environmental toxins. In animals, certain
types of protozoa can cause disease. In soils, their
principal functional role is as primary consumers of Bacteria form the base of the soil food web. They
bacteria. In this way, they regulate bacterial popula- degrade a broad range of organic materials, and some
tions, increase the turnover of soil microbial biomass produce antibiotics. Bacteria are the most numerous
and organic matter, maintain plant available nitrogen, organisms in soil and represent the highest diversity
and decrease establishment of plant pathogens. They of species in soil. Their functional roles include nu-
are also food for nematodes and fungi. trient cycling and immobilization and formation of
humus. There are bacterial pathogens as well, which
may produce allelopathic compounds that are toxic to
Fungi plants. Because of the diversity of food sources used,
rapid reproduction and small size, bacteria are very
responsive to changing soil environments and criti-
Fungi have diverse roles in soil. They produce diges- cal players in both organic matter decomposition and
tive enzymes and function as primary decomposers. nutrient cycling.
They can be saprophytes, predators of nematodes,
parasites of other fungi or plant pathogens. The pro- Bacteria can also form symbiotic relationships with
duction of hyphae by saprophytic fungi can be exten- plants. The primary example of this is the Rhizobium
sive, and forming a dense web in soil, and helping to symbiosis responsible for nitrogen fixation in the roots
improve soil aggregation. Fungi are the organisms of legumes. Legumes lacking the symbiotic relation-
with greatest biomass in soil. Symbiotic fungi such ship show signs of nitrogen deficiency when grown in
as mycorrhizae form associations with plant roots that low nitrogen soils, while nearby plants inoculated with
enhance the survival of both plant and fungi. Some the appropriate Rhizobium species do not.

4 Organic Vegetable Production

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Figure 1
The soil food web
(Source: Soil Biology Primer. 2000. Soil Conservation Society, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)

The rhizosphere (root surface) is a hotbed of activ- growing in sterilized soil produce less biomass than
ity for bacteria, actinomycetes, and fungi. Plant roots plants growing in soil where bacteria are present, which
exude or secrete carbohydrates that serve as food in turn produce less biomass than plants growing in
sources for a number of beneficial and pathogenic soil where bacteria, fungi and higher order consumers
organisms. Roots that are colonized by beneficial or- are present. Regular additions of organic matter from
ganisms are less likely to be attacked by pathogens due diverse sources and avoidance of tillage practices
to competition for nutrients, production of antibiotics, and chemical applications that are detrimental to soil
and/or parasitism of the pathogens by the beneficial organisms will help maintain a diverse and strong soil
organisms. food web on your farm.

A strong food web is needed for optimal nutrient

cycling and release. Research has shown that plants

Soil and Nutrient Management 5

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Interpreting Soil Test Results and Estimating

Nutrient Availability
John Howell
Extension Vegetable Specialist (retired)
UMass Extension
University of Massachusetts

Soil quality is of major importance to crop health and pore space is filled about equally with water and air.
productivity. Soil management practices should strive
to protect soil from erosion, maintain or increase or- Mineral soil particles are grouped according to size.
ganic matter, provide an environment which promotes Beginning with the smallest, they are classified as
a diverse microbial population and create and maintain clays, silts, sands and gravel. Soils consist of mixtures
good soil tilth. A nutrient management program should: of various size particles. Texture is the proportional
1) supply sufficient nutrients to achieve the optimum amount of each of these groups. Note that the word
yield that is realistic for the site; 2) avoid excess ap- loam does not refer to a specific group of particles,
plication of nutrients which can degrade water quality but is used to describe mixtures of sand, silt and clay.
or which create imbalances causing lower yield and/or Soil texture is determined solely by the sizes of the
quality; and; 3) maintain desired soil pH, to ensure that mineral particles and has nothing to do with organic
all nutrients are readily available to the crop. matter Weathering can change the size of these par-
ticles, but only over thousands or millions of years.
For all practical purposes, the texture of the soil does
Physical properties of soil not change.

Soil texture has a major effect on the physical and

Soil texture chemical characteristics of soil. Sandy soils have rather
large particles and large pore spaces (macropores).
Soils are composed of solid particles with spaces be- Clay soils have very tiny particles with very small pore
tween them. The soil particles consist of tiny bits of spaces (micropores), but because there are many times
minerals and organic matter The areas between them more pore spaces, clay soils have greater total pore
are called pore space and are filled with air and water. space than sandy soils. Water adheres to soil particles.
An agricultural soil should consist of about one-half The force of this can pull water through a soil, even
soil particles and one-half pore space by volume. against gravity. This is called capillary action, and acts
Ideally, organic matter will account for 5 to 8% of in the same way water is lifted in a straw or narrow
the weight of soil particles. Moisture content varies tube. In this case, water is lifted farther in a narrow
considerably with factors such as soil drainage and tube than in a wide one. Capillary action is greater in
the amount and frequency of rain or irrigation. For micro pores than in macro pores. However, if a soil is
most agricultural crops, conditions are best when the compacted, all water movement including capillary

6 Organic Vegetable Production

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movement is limited. Clay soils absorb and retain more soils. Tillage at proper levels of soil moisture causes
water than sandy soils, but are typically poorly drained granulation. Excessive tillage in an effort to prepare a
and not well aerated. Sands are well drained as a rule, fine seed bed, especially when soils are dry, destroys
but retain little water. Loams combine some of the soil aggregates. It is very easy to overwork a soil with
moisture retention characteristics of the clays with the a rototiller. Pounding from rain or irrigation water
aeration of the sands and are widely considered the best droplets can also destroy soil aggregates. Soils should
agricultural soils. Sandy soils are coarse-textured and be managed to create and maintain soil aggregates as
are often referred to as light because they are easy much as possible. Mulches are an excellent way to
to work. Clay soils are fine-textured and their particles protect aggregates from splashing water.
will bond tightly together when they dry out after being
wet. These soils can become very hard and difficult to Biological activities are important to the granulation
work and are often called heavy. The terms heavy process. Earthworms pass soil through their digestive
and light do not refer to weight; sands actually weigh systems, adding viscous juices which bind particles
more per unit volume than clays. together. Snails and other organisms leave a trail
of slime behind them which acts as a glue. Organic
Soil structure matter is an important factor in the formation of soil
aggregates and it adds greatly to their stability. Soil
Structure is another term used to describe physical organic matter, particularly if it is well decomposed
attributes of soils. While texture refers to the sizes (humus) is a binding agent which holds clay particles
of mineral particles, structure is the overall arrange- together. It is believed that this is due to chemical
ment or aggregation of soil particles. Terms such as unions between humus and clay particles. The end
loose, hard-packed, granular and cloddy are among result is that soil organic matter plays a major role
those used to describe structure. Soil structure can be in granulation. By increasing the stability of soil ag-
modified by activities such as tillage, moisture level, gregates, the soil becomes easier to work and doesnt
freezing and thawing, root growth, earthworms and compact as easily.
other soil inhabiting animals, and driving or walking
on the surface. Organic matter not only improves the structure of
fine-textured soils, but it is equally beneficial for
Very sandy soils nearly always have a loose structure coarse textured soils. Coarse soils have a high pro-
and dont become hard-packed or cloddy. Fine-textured portion of macropores, facilitating gas exchange and
soils can become hard-packed. This condition inter- water movement. However, due to a low proportion
feres with root growth, inhibits movement of water into of micropores, these soils are not moisture retentive.
(infiltration) and through (percolation) the soil. The This makes frequent irrigation a necessity during
micro pores in fine textured soils can easily be filled dry periods. Organic matter substantially increases
with too much water to the exclusion of air, limiting the proportion of micropores, greatly improving the
the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The mac- water holding capacity of a coarse-textured soil. It is
ropores of coarse-textured soils facilitate infiltration estimated that for each per cent of soil organic matter,
and percolation of water and the exchange of gases, moisture holding capacity is increased by as much as
but they retain little water for crop use. By loosening 16,000 gallons per acre in the root zone.
and aggregating a fine textured soil, we can improve
water infiltration, percolation, and gas exchange,
and still maintain the ability to retain water for plant Chemical properties of soil
growth. An aggregated soil consists of granules that
resemble crumbs. A granule consists of many clay or
silt particles clumped together. A well granulated soil Information about a soils chemical properties can be
has micropores within the granules and macropores provided by a soil test. The soil test report indicates
between them and is both moisture retentive and well the levels of the nutrient elements that are available
aerated. for crop nutrition. It also provides information about
soil pH, buffer pH, cation exchange capacity, base
Natural activities such as freezing and thawing and saturation and organic matter. If this sounds a bit in-
the movement of roots contribute to granulation of timidating, the following discussion should be helpful.

Soil and Nutrient Management 7

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Essential elements these soils. Clearly, you cannot expect to achieve the
benefits of other amendments when pH is suboptimum.
There are thirteen mineral elements known to be essen-
tial for plant growth. All of these nutrients are absorbed Cation exchange capacity
from the soil. Six of these are called major or macro
elements because the plant uses them in comparatively Ions are atoms or groups of atoms (molecules)
large amounts. They are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), which have an electrical charge. Anions have a
potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and negative (-) charge and cations have a positive (+)
sulfur (S). Sometimes Ca, Mg and S are referred to as charge. Plants take up nutrients from the soil either
secondary elements because they are used in somewhat as cations or anions. Many of the nutrient elements
smaller amounts than N, P and K. The other seven are are cations (pronounced cat-eye-ons). These include
called minor, micro or trace elements. These are ev- Ca++, Mg++, K+, Fe+++, Mn++, Zn++, Cu++ and ammo-
ery bit as important as major elements, but are used in nium (NH4+) which is a form of N. Other cations of
very small amounts. These elements include iron (Fe), importance are H+ and Al+++ (aluminum). Anions of
Manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), boron (B), copper (Cu), importance include nitrate (NO3-), a highly leachable
molybdenum (Mo) and chlorine (Cl). Nickel (Ni) is form of nitrogen.
accepted by many scientists as the 14th nutrient element
derived from soils. The level of crop production can Cations are attracted to negatively charged surfaces of
be no greater than that allowed by the most limiting small clay and organic (humus) particles called col-
of the essential elements. loids. This attraction is called adsorption. Generally,
cations are held tightly enough on adsorption sites to
In addition to mineral elements, carbon (C), hydrogen restrict their loss through leaching. These cations can
(H) and oxygen (O) are essential elements. Plants take move from the adsorption sites on colloids into the
these elements from air and water. Although these ele- soil water solution and vise versa. In the soil solution,
ments are not applied as fertilizer materials, our soil they are available for root uptake, but are also subject
management practices affect their availability. to leaching (see Figure 3). Cation exchange capacity
(CEC) is a measure of the number of adsorption sites
Soil pH in a soil and is an important indicator of the soils
ability to retain and supply cations for plant use. CEC
One of the most important aspects of nutrient man- is reported as milli-equivalents per 100 grams of soil
agement is maintaining proper soil pH. Soil pH is a (meq/100 g). The CEC of agricultural soils ranges
measure of soil acidity. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. If the pH from below 5 in sandy soils with little organic mat-
is below 7.0, the soil is acid, but if it is above this level ter to over 20 in certain clay soils and those high in
it is alkaline. Most soils in the Northeast are naturally organic matter. A soil with a low CEC has little ability
acid and need to be limed periodically to neutralize to store nutrients and is susceptible to cation nutrient
excess acidity. Soil pH is important because it affects loss through leaching.
the availability of nutrient elements for plant uptake.
Availability of macro-elements and molybdenum (Mo) Cation exchange capacity is related to soil texture.
is restricted in acid soils. Under alkaline conditions, Of the mineral particles, clay is the only group which
with the exception of Mo, the availability of microele- makes a significant contribution to CEC. However,
ments is reduced. Under acid conditions, Ca and Mg there are several types of clays, and they vary con-
are frequently low and there may be toxic levels of siderably in their CEC. Crops are grown on a wide
iron, aluminum and manganese. Most crops, do best range of soil types, including many that are sandy
when the soil pH is in the range of 6.0 to 6.8. At this and low in clay. In many areas of the Northeast, the
pH, the availability of macro and micro elements is types of clay present have a low CEC. In much of the
maximized, and accumulation of toxic elements is regions soils, organic matter is the primary contribu-
minimized. Although most soils in the Northeast are tor to CEC. This fact is true even of soils with low
able to supply sufficient amounts of microelements, organic matter. Not only does organic matter improve
growers may find deficiencies in some of the sandy the physical properties of soil, it also plays a vital role
soils. A soil pH of 6.0 to 6.2 is more appropriate for in soil chemistry by increasing CEC.

8 Organic Vegetable Production

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Base saturation recognizable characteristics for a while. This is the

dead fraction of the SOM. It is also called the active
The cations Ca++, Mg++, K+ and H+ normally account for fraction because it supports microbial activity. Sooner
nearly all cations adsorbed on soil particles, although or later the dead organic matter decays due to microbial
trace elements that are cations are also present in activity and cannot be recognized for what it was and
minute quantities. Ca++, Mg++, and K+ are base cations eventually becomes humus. This is very dead organic
that raise soil pH and H+ and Al+++ are acidic cations matter. It is also called inactive organic matter because
that lower soil pH. If all of the adsorbed cations are it will no longer support microbial activity. In addition,
bases and none are acidic, there would be a 100% base animals eat plants or other animals and pass some of
saturation, and the soil pH would be about 7 (neutral) their food through their bodies as manure which is rich
or above. In acid soils there are acid cations pres- in nutrients and organic matter.
ent and the percent base saturation is less than 100.
Besides having sufficient quantities of Ca, Mg and Organic matter consists of numerous compounds
K, they should be in balance with each other because which vary greatly in their ease of decomposition.
an excess of one of these can suppress the uptake of Sugars, starches and proteins are rapidly decomposed
another. As a general rule a Ca:Mg:K ratio of about by microbes while lignin, fats and waxes are resistant
20:4:1 is desirable. When expressed as percent base to this process. Fresh organic residues consist mostly
saturation, desired levels are: Ca 65-80%; Mg 5-15%; of easily decomposed compounds which break down
and K 2-5%. rapidly under favorable conditions. The result is a rapid
reduction of the volume of SOM. The resistant materi-
Soil organic matter als remain and form the dark colored material called
humus. Humus continues to decompose, but at a very
As already noted, soil organic matter (SOM) improves slow rate. Carbon dating has shown some humus to
moisture holding capacity of sandy soils, aeration be thousands of years old. Humus forms the colloids
of clay soils and helps overall structure of any soil. which contribute to increased cation exchange capacity
Soil organic matter is the chief contributor to cation and good soil structure.
exchange capacity in many soils and is an important
factor in all soils. The break down or decomposition of Soil organic matter is broken down by microbes as
SOM releases nutrients which can be used by plants. they consume it for food. Any factor that affects soil
Organic matter is also food for organisms that are es- microbial activity also affects SOM break down. In
sential for a healthy soil environment. the microbe, respiration combines most of the carbon
from SOM with oxygen to form carbon dioxide gas.
By definition, organic matter contains carbon. Carbon For this process to continue, there must be an exchange
is a source of energy for microorganisms (microbes) of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the atmosphere
in the soil. These are microscopic plants and animals and the soil pore spaces. Gas exchange can be restricted
such as bacteria and fungi. Some of these are patho- if the soil is compacted or saturated with excess water.
gens which cause plant disease, but in a healthy, This slows the rate of SOM decomposition. While
well managed soil the vast majority are beneficial. excess water inhibits decomposition, a certain amount
Organic matter provides food for a diverse popula- is necessary to support microbes. Therefore, condi-
tion of microbes in the soil and this helps prevent tions of moisture stress can be expected to slow the
any one type of organism, such as a plant pathogen, decomposition of SOM.
from dominating.
Soil microbes are also influenced by soil pH and tem-
Soil organic matter is continuously being produced perature. This is especially true of bacteria. Under acid
and broken down by living plants and animals. Dr. conditions, bacterial activity in breaking down organic
Fred Magdoff of the University of Vermont coined an matter is greatly reduced. Soil fungi responsible for
appropriate phrase: There are three kinds of SOM; the break down of SOM are generally less affected by
living, the dead and the very dead. The living fraction low pH. In most cases, however, bacteria are respon-
of the SOM is made up of living plants and animals, sible for most of the decomposition of SOM, and as
including microbes, that are found in the soil. When a rule this process is markedly slowed if soil pH level
they die, stalks, leaves and other plant parts retain drops below 6.0. The optimum soil temperatures for

Soil and Nutrient Management 9

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bacterial activity are in the 70 to 100 F range, but there are required intervals between application of
activity occurs as low as 40 F, although at greatly manure and harvest of edible crops. Check with an
reduced rates. accredited certifying agency.

A moist, warm, well aerated soil with a pH between

six and seven provides ideal conditions for decompo- Soil testing
sition of SOM. These are the conditions that promote
optimum growth of most crops. Productive farming
practices can be quite destructive to SOM! This may Sampling a field
seem frustrating if you are trying to build SOM, but
decomposition is a beneficial process. It provides To collect a soil sample, use a soil probe, soil auger,
energy for a diverse group of soil microbes, releases or garden shovel to collect samples from throughout
nutrients for plant growth and produces humus. The the field. Use a V or W pattern to ensure that the
challenge is to continuously replace what is lost and, sample is representative of the field. Areas of the field
if practical, increase SOM. that appear to be a different soil type, have been man-
aged differently, or where you have observed poor
Adding to soil organic matter growth, should be sampled separately.

Compost is an excellent source of organic matter that Scrape away surface litter from the sites you choose,
nearly all farmers can make. Most growers dont have and then collect a core or slice of soil to the plow
enough raw materials to satisfy their needs. Some are depthusually about 6-8 inches. Collect cores from
bringing in additional materials such as municipal 10-15 different sites and place them in a plastic bucket.
yard wastes to compost on site. Others are purchasing Mix these samples well, and then take about one pint
compost from the increasing number of commercial of soil from this mixture to send to the lab. It is best to
composters. Regardless of the source, compost should air dry this sample before you send it to the lab.
be finished before use. Finished compost has no recog-
nizable bits of matter and will not heat up after turning. The report you receive from the lab should indicate soil
Compost should be tested for nutrient content. Most nutrient levels of most of the macronutrients and some
soil testing laboratories can test compost. Finished of the micronutrients, pH, and organic matter. Some
compost should have a low ammonium content, high labs also include cation exchange capacity, buffer pH
nitrate level and a pH near neutral. Repeated use of a or exchangeable acidity, and/or base saturation.
compost high in a particular element may cause a nu-
trient imbalance and result in excess levels of certain Adjusting pH
elements. This can easily be avoided by soil testing on
a regular basis (at least every three years). Lime is used to correct the pH of acid soils. The amount
of lime needed depends on several factors, including
Animal manure is an excellent source of nutrients and current and desired pH, soil texture and soil organic
organic matter. About half of the nitrogen in fresh dairy matter. Soil testing laboratories measure soil pH, which
manure and 75% of the nitrogen in poultry manure is is actually a measure of the concentration of H+ in the
in the form of ammonia. Ammonia is subject to loss soil solution. This is called active acidity. There is also
through volatilization if not incorporated immediately H+ adsorbed onto soil colloids. This is called reserve (or
after spreading. In the soil, ammonia is converted to exchange) acidity and this is related to cation exchange
nitrate and is available for plant use. However, since capacity (CEC). When lime is added to the soil, reac-
nitrate is subject to leaching, large applications should tions occur which result in H+ being replaced by Ca++
generally be avoided. There are times when readily and/or Mg++. At the same pH, a soil with a high reserve
available nitrogen is needed, but fresh manure should acidity (loams, clays, high humus) may require 3 to 4
be applied with caution. Many people prefer to com- times as much lime as one with a low reserve acidity
post manure before field application. This stabilizes the (sands, gravels). The soil testing laboratory uses a
nitrogen. Manure can be mixed with other materials procedure to determine the lime requirement of a soil
for composting. There are strict certification re- based on its reserve acidity. A buffer pH test is the most
quirements for composts that contain manure and common method used to determine lime requirement,

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but some laboratories use other procedures. years can lead to an imbalance between Ca and Mg.
Because dolomitic lime is the most readily available
The speed with which lime reacts in the soil is depen- liming material in some areas, many growers have
dent on particle size and distribution in the soil. To used it continuously. As a result, many fields are low
determine fineness, lime particles are passed through in Ca and very high in Mg. Choose liming materials
sieves of various mesh sizes. A 10 mesh sieve has 10 to achieve and maintain appropriate base saturation
openings per linear inch, or 100 openings per square levels. Shop around for and insist on the appropriate
inch (10 X 10) and a 100 mesh sieve has 10,000 material, even if you must pay for increased hauling
openings per square inch (100 X 100). Lime particles costs. Gypsum may be used to increase Ca if calcite
that pass through a 100 mesh sieve are fine and react is not available, but it does not affect soil pH and is
rapidlywithin a few weeks. Coarser material in the expensive.
20 to 30 mesh range will react over a longer period
such as one to two years or more. Agricultural ground The neutralizing power of lime is determined by its
limestone contains both coarse and fine particles. calcium carbonate equivalence (CCE), also referred to
About half of a typical ground limestone consists of as Effective Neutralizing Value (ENV). Recommen-
particles fine enough to react within a few weeks or dations are based on an assumption that lime is pure
months, but to be certain you should obtain a physical calcium carbonate which has a CCE (ENV) of 100%.
analysis from your supplier. If lime has a lower CCE (ENV), more than the recom-
mended amount is needed, but if it is higher, as with
Super fine or pulverized lime is sometimes used for a some dolomitic limes, less is required. To determine
quick fix because all of the particles are fine enough the amount of lime to apply, divide the recommended
to react rapidly. Hydrated lime, quick lime are fast amount by the per cent calcium carbonate equivalence
acting, but are not approved for use in organic systems of the lime to be used and multiply by 100. For ex-
because they are highly caustic. ample, if the lime recommendation is 2 tons per acre
and the lime has a CCE of 72%, apply 2.7 tons per acre
For the most rapid results, lime should be thoroughly according to the following calculation:
mixed with the soil. Plowing turns lime under to the
plow depth, but does not mix it with the soil. Harrow- recommended amount X 100% = amount
ing can do a good job of mixing, but generally only CCE needed
incorporates lime to a depth of two to three inches. A
split application can be use in which half the lime is OR
plowed under, and the remainder is applied after plow-
ing and harrowed in. A rototiller is effective for soil 2 tons/A X 100% = 2.7 tons/A
incorporation. Weather permitting, it is best to apply 72%
lime when the soil is somewhat dry. If lime is spread
on damp soils, it tends to cake and will not mix as Wood ashes can also be used to raise soil pH. The
well with soil particles. If the soil pH is already at a calcium carbonate equivalence of wood ashes varies
reasonable level and rapid results are not needed, lime considerably, typically ranging from 30 to 50%. They
may be recommended to maintain current levels. In are chemically similar to quick lime and supply K as
this case plowing or simple harrowing are sufficient well as Ca and Mg. CAUTION: Do not over-apply
for incorporation. wood ashes. Wood ashes spread in a concentrated area
cause the soil pH to become extremely high, inhibiting
Besides raising soil pH, lime is the most economical plant growth.
source of Ca and Mg for crop nutrition. Select liming
materials based on Ca and Mg content with the aim of On some soils, it may be necessary to lower the pH.
keeping these nutrients in balance. If the Mg level is Elemental sulfur can be used for this purpose. Like
low, a lime high in Mg (dolomite) should be used. If Mg limestone, particle size and thoroughness of mixing
is high and Ca is low, a lime high in calcium (calcite) affect the speed of reaction. It typically requires six
is preferable. High Mag lime contains about 5% Mg months to a year to lower pH to the desirable range.
and 35% Ca by weight. Use this if both Ca and Mg are The ability of sulfur to lower pH varies among soils.
needed. Continual use of one type of lime over several Sulfur must be oxidized to be acidifying. This process

Soil and Nutrient Management 11

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is carried out by certain bacteria. If they are not pres- calcium and magnesium at high pH. Added fertilizer
ent in the soil, this reaction, and hence, acidification phosphorus is fixed with other elements and is only
will not occur. very slowly made available. Since this is a chemical
reaction, it is faster in warmer soils than in cooler soils.
Banding P with a material such as bone meal, rather
Nutrient management than broadcasting, is a more efficient way to apply this
nutrient if needed. Manure is a good source of easily
available P.
Potassium is the third of the primary elements. Crops
Nitrogen is often the most limiting nutrient. Deficiency deficient in K can suffer considerable loss in yield or
symptoms include yellow plants and stunted, weak quality without showing obvious symptoms. This is
growth. The majority of crops absorb most of their often called hidden hunger. In severe cases, leaf edges
nitrogen in the nitrate (NO3-) form, but they can ab- may be scorched. Plants absorb potassium in the ion
sorb some ammonium (NH4+). Unfortunately, nitrate- form K+. Potassium can be leached from sandy or
nitrogen is very soluble and is easily leached. In most gravelly soils of low CEC and be fixed and unavail-
soils, a considerable amount of nitrogen is tied up in able in some clays.
organic matter (crop residues, soil organic matter, mi-
crobes, etc.) not immediately available to plants. This Calcium
nitrogen must be released by microbes as they consume
organic matter. This process is called mineralization Calcium is absorbed by roots in the ion form Ca++.
These microbes are most active when the soil is warm, Deficiency symptoms include young leaves that are
moisture and aeration are optimum and pH is 6.0 or stunted, distorted and spotted and necrotic at the leaf
above. Cool conditions, dry or waterlogged soils, low edge. Blossom-end rot is seen in tomatoes and other
pH or compaction will slow the conversion of nitrogen fruiting crops. Although calcium may be present in
to available forms. Under favorable conditions, we can high levels in the soil, dry conditions will limit its
usually expect from 20 to 40 lbs. of nitrogen per acre uptake by plants and cause deficiency symptoms.
for each per cent soil organic matter. High levels of sodium, K, Mg, and ammonium may
also cause deficiency by interfering with Ca uptake.
Nitrogen uptake varies from as little as 50 lb./A for
snap beans to 200 lb/A or more for field corn. Soil Magnesium
organic matter can provide some and in some cases all
of a crops need for nitrogen. The rest can be provided Magnesium is absorbed in the Mg++ form. Deficiencies
by adding an organic fertilizer. Manure can supply appear on older leaves as regions between leaf veins
a substantial amount of readily available nitrogen. which become yellow and sometimes a reddish color
For safety reasons and to meet certification require- progressing to brown. Deficiency is most common
ments, a minimum time interval is required between on acid, highly leached soils or those that are high in
application of non-composted manure and harvest of potassium or calcium.
edible crops.
Sulfur is cycled through soil in a very complex fashion,
Phosphorus, like nitrogen, can be found in organic and similar to nitrogen. In the northeast, significant quanti-
inorganic portions of the soil. P deficiency appears as a ties of sulfur are supplied by air pollution. Deficiency
purpling of leaf tissue. P is found in three forms in soil; symptoms, while rare, first appear as a yellowing of
two of which are unavailable to plants. The unavail- the younger leaves (as compared to older leaves with
able forms include P in organic matter and phosphorus nitrogen). Sulfur deficiency is more likely in acid,
fixed or bound to iron and aluminum at low pH, and sandy soils, low in organic matter.

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Micronutrients (lb/A). This is not usually very helpful to a grower,

but the report also has a rating of low, medium, high
Micronutrients are not often deficient. Deficiencies (optimum) and very high (excessive). These ratings are
are more likely in soils with high pH or sandy soils useful in determining the need for nutrient applications.
with low organic matter. Some of the more common
elemental deficiencies are mentioned below. Generally, it is best to have nutrient levels in the
high/optimum range. This means that for most crops,
Iron deficiency there is an adequate supply of nutrients. If a nutri-
ent is in the medium range, it is likely to limit crop
Iron deficiency appears as a white or yellow area production, but not severely. In such cases, crops can
between the veins of youngest leaves. It is most com- be expected to respond to application of the nutrient
monly seen on soils with higher pH and can often be some extent. If a nutrient level is in the low range it is
worsened by liming. Excess P can tie up some iron likely that it will limit production to a greater extent.
as well. In this situation, increasing the level of the nutrient
element will probably benefit the crop significantly.
Manganese deficiency Conversely, if a nutrient is in the very high/excessive
range, it may interfere with the availability of certain
Manganese deficiency can result in yellowing of the other nutrients which are otherwise in adequate sup-
interveinal areas of young leaves (as compared to older ply. Excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorous also
leaves for magnesium). It is most common on soils create potential hazards to water quality, and in the
with pH above 6.8. case of nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water, can have
serious health effects.
Zinc deficiency
One of the goals of a soil management program should
Zinc deficiency often shows as small, abnormally be to maintain nutrient levels in the high/ optimum
shaped leaves and stunted plants. As with iron, excess range. If a nutrient is in or is approaching the very
P can tie up zinc. high/excessive range, it should not applied until the
level drops back into the high/optimum range. This
Boron deficiency is challenging for organic growers, because many
amendments such as compost contain a number of
Boron deficiency may result in browned, distorted, different nutrients. If a material is used, it may supply
brittle plants. Fruit may be affected by cracks, necrotic some needed nutrients, but may also increase the level
spots, and internal breakdown. Stems of cruciferous of nutrients already in excess. Also, many materials
crops may be hollow. It may occur on alkaline, highly are slow to release nutrients and may continue to do
leached, or low organic matter soils. Caution: some so after levels are in the very high/excess range. The
crops are sensitive to high levels of boron; dont ap- best way to avoid excess nutrient levels is to test the
ply more than two lb per acre. Solubor or boraxo are soil regularly and be aware that many materials will
approved sources for organic agriculture. continue to increase soil nutrient levels for some period
of years after application.

Determining what nutrients to add

and how much Pre-sidedress soil nitrate test

The only way to know the nutrient needs of a soil is by The pre-sidedress soil nitrate test (PSNT) was origi-
testing. Guess work is dangerous. There are numerous nally developed to improve nitrogen management in
examples of fields with serious nutrient imbalances field corn on farms with a significant amount of ma-
and excesses where they were not monitored by soil nure usage. It has been adapted for use in vegetable
testing. Most soil test reports indicate nutrient levels crops to predict the need for applying supplemental
in terms of parts per million (ppm) or pounds per acre nitrogen during the growing season. Regular soil tests

Soil and Nutrient Management 13

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performed in the fall, winter or spring do not provide an Organic fertilizers often improve soil organic matter
accurate indication of nitrogen levels in the soil during and generally have a positive impact on soil tilth.
the growing season. The PSNT can also be a useful tool They are easy on earthworms and microbial popula-
for organic growers to monitor nitrogen levels during tions. However it is possible to achieve excess levels
the summer, when this nutrient is normally at its high- of some nutrients if some amendments are applied at
est levels. This allows the grower to adjust applications high rates over a period of time. This can be avoided
of nitrogen containing amendments, such as compost by monitoring levels by regular soil testing.
to avoid excesses of deficiencies. A nitrate-nitrogen
level of 30 ppm measured in early summer is believed
to be adequate for most crops. Levels above 50 ppm References
are considered excessive.

To sample for the PSNT, collect 15 to 20 subsamples Brady, Nyle C. 1974. The Nature and Properties of
from the top 12 inches of soil about one week before Soils. 8th edition. MacMillan Publishing Co. New
the pumpkin vines begin to run. Mix the subsamples York.
and retain about one cup full for the test. Soil samples
should be spread on a nonporous surface to air dry Garrison, Steven, ed. 1999. Commercial Vegetable
soon after sampling. Follow the general directions for Production Recommendations for Delaware, Mary-
collecting soil samples described on page 10 in this land, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Coopera-
chapter. When the soil is dry, send your sample to a tive Extension Systems of Delaware, Maryland, New
soil testing lab for a nitrate-nitrogen test. Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia

Heckman, Joseph. 2002. Personal communication.

Organic fertilizers
Howell, John C., ed. 2002. 2002-2003 New England
Vegetable Management Guide. Cooperative Extension
Nutrients need to be added to fields to replace those Systems of New England.
which have been removed by harvesting. If a soil is
low in a nutrient(s), extra effort is needed to achieve Howell, John C. 1998. Soil Basics I, II and III. Univer-
suitable levels for optimum production. Organic sity of Massachusetts Extension Fact Sheets: VegSF
fertilizers include animal manures, compost, green 1, 2 and 3-98
manures, and other natural materials. Many of these
are slow to become available to plants, but contribute Magdoff, Fred. 1992. Building Soils for Better Crops:
to soil fertility in the long run. Some are available Organic Matter Management. University of Nebraska
more rapidly and are useful to correct a problem or to Press. Lincoln.
supply certain nutrients while fertility is built up with
other amendments. Some common organic fertilizers Sachs, Paul D. 1993. Edaphos: Dynamics of a Natural
are listed in Table 1 along with typical nutrient values Soil System. Edaphic Press. Newbury, Vt.
and relative availability. The list of allowed inputs
sometimes changes, so it is important to consult with Pohl, Susan, ed. 1994. Vegetable Production Hand-
an accredited organic certifying agency to determine book. Cornell Cooperative Extension.
what fertilizer materials are currently allowed.

14 Organic Vegetable Production

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Table 1
Organic Fertilizers. Check with certifying agent on current status.

Material N (%) P2O5 (%) K2O (%) Relative Availability

Alfalfa pellets 3 0.5 3 slow
Dried blood 13 2 0.5 med/rapid
Bone meal (raw) 2-6 15-27 0 slow/med
Bone meal (steamed) .5-4 18-34 0 slow/med
Cocoa shells 1-2 1 2-3 slow

Compost (unfortified) 1-3 .5-1 1-2 slow

Compost (fortified blends) 3-5 3-4 3-5 slow/med
Cottonseed meal 6 2 2 slow/med
Fish emulsion 4-5 1-2 1-2 rapid
Bat guano 6 9 2 med

Manure (fresh) dairy .5 .2 .5 med/rapid

horse .6 .2 .5 med
sheep 1 .3 1 med/rapid
poultry 1-3 1-2 .5-2 med/rapid
Pumace (fresh apple) 6-7 1-2 .2 slow

Soybean meal 6-7 1-2 2 slow/med

Tankage (dry) 6-7 10-14 0 med
Wood ashes 0 1-2 3-7 rapid
Colloidal phosphate 0 18-25 0 slow; about 3% available
Granite dust 0 0 3-5 very slow

Greensand 0 0 4-9 very slow

Rock phosphate 0 20-32 0 slow; about 2% available
Sodium (Chilian) nitrate 16 0 0 rapid
Sul-Po-Mag 0 0 22 rapid; also contains Mg and
Epsom salts 0 0 0 10% Mg-rapid

Nutrient content varies with origin and handling; availability depends on fineness of grind.

Soil and Nutrient Management 15

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Tillage Practices for Maintaining Soil Quality

Harold van Es
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Cornell University

Healthy soil is the foundation of sustainable crop through denitrification, and well drained soil can lose
production. It is the result of a combination of factors. nitrogen through leaching. In the past decades, agri-
While this presentation will focus mostly on how till- culture has too much focused on the chemical aspects
age affects soil health I first want to briefly go over the of soils and insufficient attention has been given to the
bigger picture of soil health. physical and biological (especially) functions.

A key concept for managing soil health is recognizing The key management approaches that can positively
the interaction between the biological, chemical, and influence soil health are organic matter additions,
physical aspects of soil. Biologically healthy soil has reduced tillage, and compaction prevention. Adding
low pest populations, or the ability to suppress pests, organic matter to the soil increases biological activity
and is fully functional with respect to nutrient cycling and diversity, which in turn releases plant-available
and producing plant growth promoting compounds. nutrients and holds them in the soil, increases soil ag-
From the chemical perspective, healthy soil has ad- gregation, pore structure, and tilth, produces humus
equate levels of available nutrients, but not so high and other plant growth promoting substances, and
that there will be a lot of leaching; an optimal pH for reduces soilborne diseases and parasitic nematodes
the planned crop rotation; and low levels of toxic or (Fig. 1). At least one long term cropping experiment
disruptive substances such as heavy metals, aluminum, has shown a yield increases related to increasing or-
or salts. The physical characteristics of healthy soil ganic matter levels, especially in dry years when higher
include good tilth, water infiltration, aeration, and organic matter levels can improve water retention.
water retention.
Now well move on to tillage. One question we can
The biological, chemical and physical properties mu- ask ourselves is why we till in the first place. The plow,
tually influence each other, and if we ignore one, the which was invented in the England in the mid-1700s,
other will be affected. For example, aggregation of soil revolutionized agriculture. It provided unprecedented
particles is influenced by the types of cations (e.g. Ca, control of weeds, allowed for a more stable food
Mg, K) and amount of organic matter present in the supply, and was a critical tool in the development of
soil. The types of organisms present can be influenced virgin lands in North America. Plowing the soil incor-
by compaction and availability of food sources, and porates residue from the previous crop, weeds, and
soil drainage influences the amount of nitrogen avail- amendments. Its the first step in seedbed preparation,
able to plants because saturated soil can lose nitrogen increases the conversion of organic matter to plant-

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organic Increased biological activity
matter (& diversity)

Reduced Decomposition
soil-borne diseases, Aggregation
parasitic nematodes increased
Pore structure Humus and other released
improved growth
Improved tilth substances
and water storage


Figure 1

available nutrients, and reduces compaction, at least oxidized the soil organic matter and released nutrients
temporarily. So, the first experience with the plow was for his crops. In time, however, he mined the soil of
very positive, mainly because the destructive qualities its nutrients and food source for soil organisms. In
didnt manifest themselves until after several decades. the long run this is not sustainable, and we have seen
similar problems with modern farming methods. One
In that respect, it is interesting to study the contribu- interesting lesson learned from Tulls work is that
tions of the eighteenth-century English agriculturalist short-term research does not always provide the right
Jethro Tull. Tull made an everlasting contribution to picture.
the worlds by inventing the seed drill, as he recognized
that good seed placement improved germination and There are also other negative aspects of plowing. It
plant population over the conventional broadcast uses a large amount of energy, and repeated plowing
seeding (of small grains). Now, we recognize that the destroys soil aggregates, which increases compaction
mechanical seeder is an essential agricultural tool, and the potential for crusting, resulting in low water
especially for conservation farming because no-till infiltration, increased erosion, and the development of
planters allow us to place seeds with very minimal a zone of low microbial activity near the soil surface.
tillage. Tull, however, also appears to have done an Intensive soil tillage exposes the soil to the elements
unintentional disservice to the land. He believed that and causes temperature and heat extremes near the
plant roots absorbed nutrients as tiny soil particles surface, creating an environment that is uninhabit-
(rather than as ions as was established in the following able for soil organisms. In that respect, we need to
century). He therefore tilled his soils over and again start changing our somewhat romantic image of clean
to pulverize it. Sure enough, he was able to feed his tillage, which we often associate with goodness and
crops for many years without the use of manure or tradition. What could be better than a beautiful, aro-
other forms of fertilizer. But what was he doing? He matic freshly-plowed field? In fact, we are actually

Soil and Nutrient Management 17

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doing something very unnatural, because soil is not do not have the large pores that readily drain and allow
naturally exposed to the elements and we are creating air into it. When the soil dries, compacted soils more
an ecologically unfavorable soil environment. A field readily experience drought stress, which is actually
covered with residues may not have the aesthetics of a caused by hard soil not allowing for root penetration.
plowed field, but it is a lot more ecologically compat- So crops growing on compacted soil are happy only
ible. Farm ugly, as they say. when the moisture conditions are average. During
prolonged dry or wet periods, however, the plants
Another factor associated with increased soil degrada- quickly become stressed and have decreased yield or
tion is driving heavy farm equipment on a field. The quality. A well-structured soil will not show drought
weight of heavy equipment is concentrated in a small or aeration problems unless the conditions are very
area underneath the tires, and can certainly increase extreme.
soil compaction, especially if the soil is wet. The level
of compaction is greater and extends deeper into wet So how do we improve soil health? First, we have to
soil than into dry soil, reminding us of the importance recognize that some soils have become addicted
of staying off fields when the soil is wet. to tillage. Depletion of organic matter over time has
resulted in soils that are so compacted that multiple
The notions of water availability and compaction are passes are needed to break up clods to create a good
brought together in the concept of the optimum water seedbed. The relief is only temporary, however, as
range. Highly compacted soil has a smaller optimum these soils usually settle back down and form crusts
water range than a well-structured soil (Fig. 2). During after the first good rain, inhibiting seedling emergence
wet periods, compacted soils experience prolonged and root growth. What can we do to remediate such
water saturation and aeration problems, because they soils or prevent them from occurring in the first place?

Figure 2

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Building Healthy Soils ing no-till, strip till, ridge till, and zone till. The cooler
soils associated with no-till can be a challenge in the
Northeast. Strip, zone, and ridge till are adaptations
In general, the following practices will help build soils: of no-till that can overcome some of the cool soil
problems. The narrow tilled zone warms up faster
1. Organic Matter Management due to the removal of a small amount of residue,
and is loosened and aerated, creating more favorable
Add organic matter to the soil regularly. conditions for germination and growth. My research
program has shown that no till is most successful when
Use different types of organic materials. used with crop rotations rather than in monoculture.
Also, we found that using ridges or beds, which force
Use different sources of organic materials controlled traffic, are very attractive for our climate
conditions, especially on medium and fine-textured
Reduce organic matter losses soils. No-tillage is generally very successful on sandy
and gravelly soils, which have less compaction prob-
Keep soil surface covered with living vegetation lems and are more drought sensitive.
as much as possible
We have learned that a good no-till seeder is a criti-
2. Improved tillage cal piece of equipment, because it allows for good
seed placement under a range of conditions. Many
Minimize tillage intensity times, farmers perform intensive tillage just to create
a seedbed, while fine tilth is only needed in the soil
Optimize timing immediately surrounding the seed. With a no-till or
zone-till planter, tillage options are much more flexible.
Maximize surface cover If serious cover cropping is part of the management
of the farm, a no-till drill is essential. There should
3. Minimize soil compaction be no tillage prior to cover crop seeding, because that
mostly negates its benefits. Recent studies conducted
No traffic on wet soils (by far most important) in Michigan suggest that even when cover crops or
manure are used in a rotation, soil organic matter levels
Minimize soil loading by reducing equipment dont increase when a moldboard plow is used for till-
weight and spreading the load with multiple axles age. Tillage practices such as no-till, zone-till, strip-till,
and large tires and ridge-till do result in an increase in organic matter,
even when cover crops are not used. In other words,
Use controlled traffic lanes, and take advantage of the less the soil is disturbed, exposing organic matter
ridges and beds to the air, the less organic matter is oxidized and lost
to the atmosphere.
Reducing tillage results in many changes in the soil
including higher carbon (organic matter) levels, bet- Mulching is another practice that can benefit soil health
ter structure, better water availability, more biological by providing cover for the surface of the soil and pro-
activity, and reduced erosion. viding a source of organic matter. The use of mulches
enhances water availability by improving infiltration
Other changes to keep in mind are that soils may also into the soil and reducing evaporation from the soil.
stay cool later in the spring, nutrients may become Mulching provides weed control by shading the soil
stratified (higher levels near the surface) because they surface and inhibiting weed germination, reduces
are not being mixed into the soil profile, and the pH splashing of soil and disease inoculum onto leaves and
of the surface soil will change more rapidly after ap- fruit, and reduces infestations of certain insects (i.e.
plications of lime because the lime is not being mixed Colorado potato beetle) on plants grown in a mulch
with a larger amount of soil. system. Also, the temperature and moisture modera-
tion from a covered soil promotes biological activity.
There is a range of options for reduced tillage, includ-

Soil and Nutrient Management 19

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While bringing cut mulch into a field is feasible on soil types, and the climate. What works for one grower
a small scale, a different approach is needed for us- in one part of the state may not work for another grower
ing mulch on a larger scale. Steve Groff, an innova- in another part of the state. Choose a system that is most
tive farmer in southern Pennsylvania has adapted a efficient in terms of energy use and passes across the
technique for planting into standing mulch that was field, can handle organic matter additions in the forms
developed by USDA researchers. Steve uses a no-till available to you, and is appropriate for your manage-
seeder or transplanter to establish a crop into the mulch ment style and operation. Be aware that a there is often
from a killed rye/vetch cover crop that was planted a yield reduction that lasts 2-3 years when changing to
in the fall of the previous growing season. The cover minimal tillage systems on unhealthy, degraded soils.
crop is killed either with herbicides or by a piece of Start small and develop a system that works for you
equipment that rolls down and crimps the cover crop before using it on your entire farm.
just as it starts to flower. You can learn more about this
technique from Steves web site: <http://www.cedar A good resource for learning more about soil health>. is: Building Soils for Better Crops by Fred Magdoff
and Harold van Es. Its available from the Sustainable
What type of tillage makes the most sense on any par- Agriculture Network, <>.
ticular farm? It dependson the type of operation, the

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Compost and Cover Crops for Organic

Vegetable Growers
Brian Caldwell
Farm Education Coordinator
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York

Applying compost and growing cover crops are ex- you know what levels of nutrients you are applying to
cellent practices for growers to use to enhance soil your fields. Otherwise, have a sample of your compost
fertility. They improve the soils nutrient, physical, or manure analyzed at a lab.
and biological status.
A few years (perhaps 3-5) of heavy, but diminishing
compost applications will bring soil nutrient levels
Improving soil with compost up into the high range, even under heavy cropping.
Crops remove far fewer nutrients than will have been
applied. A ton of compost may contain 10 to 60 or
If one starts with a depleted soil, the first thing to do is more pounds of nitrogen, of which around half will be
to correct the pH with lime if necessary, and then add in available form. It may also carry similar amounts
compost to boost overall nutrient levels and biologi- of phosphorous and potassium, along with calcium,
cal activity. This initial boost of compost is generally magnesium, sulfur, and trace minerals. An application
put on at a high rate of 10 tons per acre or more. of ten tons per acre of compost with a 1-1-1 analysis,
Uncomposted manure can be used in a similar way, then, may add something like 200-200-200 pounds of
observing the time to harvest restrictions required by NPK. An average vegetable crop harvest might remove
organic certifiers. on the order of only 80-20-100 pounds from the field.
So, 120-180-100 pounds per acre may have been ap-
Composts made from different feed stocks can have plied in excess of what the crop harvest removed.
widely different analyses. Chicken manure has very
high relative phosphorous levels, since chickens are Since P and K are mostly held by the soil, it is easy to
fed large amounts of grain, which is relatively high see how they can build up to high levels after a few
in P. Therefore, compost made with large amounts of years of heavy compost applications. Nitrogen is a dif-
chicken manure is also relatively high in P. Poultry ferent story. It is easily lost to air or groundwater and
manure composts generally have higher nitrogen- builds up more slowly. So even after the heavy nutrient
phosphorous-potassium (N-P-K) percentages than applications of these first few years, nitrogen will still
composts made from other feedstocks, some as high as be needed each year for most crops. P and K will be
5-5-5. Conversely, composts made mostly with plant in ample supply. The soil fertility strategy can shift at
matter may have an analysis below 1-1-1. If you pur- this time, so the N comes mostly from legume green
chase compost, get an analysis from your supplier so manure crops, and compost is used far less frequently.

Soil and Nutrient Management 21

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Legumes for nitrogen Crop rotation

Tilling under heavy stands of legume green manure During and after the first years of organic management,
crops such as clovers or hairy vetch, can add over 100 a good crop rotation needs to be put in place. The
lbs./A of nitrogen to the soil. The nitrogen content of rotation is the key organic practice that allows pests,
a legume cover crop is roughly proportional to its dry including weeds, to be controlled and soil fertility to be
weight content. This, in turn, depends in part on how properly managed. Successful organic farmers realize
much growing time the cover crop has had. In some the importance of their crop rotations.
cases, red clover may occupy a field for a whole year,
but heavy crops of some cool-season legume crops, The crop rotation can be seen as an organized succes-
notably hairy vetch and field peas, can be grown before sion of crops grown over the seasons on a given field. It
or after partial-season vegetable crops like lettuce, varies from farm to farm, depending on markets, soils,
spinach, herbs, brassicas, onions, carrots, etc. and many other factors. Good crop rotations, however,
include a fairly wide variety of crops. In addition to
Another way of squeezing in a legume green manure vegetable crops for sale, an effective rotation further
is to underseed it into a standing vegetable crop at includes green manure and cover crops, and possibly
the final cultivation. For instance, red clover can be even grains and sod crops.
dribbled between rows of fall brassicas about a month
after transplanting. By the time of harvest, the red clo- Vegetable crops tend to reduce soil quality, since their
ver will form a low mat over most of the field. It will culture usually requires bare ground over much of the
have competed little with the crop, unless conditions season, repeated trips across the field, and they leave
became very dry. In that case, extra irrigation will have little residue. Sod crops, on the other hand, cover the
been necessary. By the following May, a good stand soil completely and provide heavy biomass when
of clover will put on enough growth to supply the N turned under. Over the years, a sod will raise soil
needed by the next crop. quality to its maximum potential. Cover crops and
grain crops fall between these two extremes, in terms
of effects on soil quality.
Cover crops and green manures
Sample simplified vegetable rotations:
1. Intensive: Veg/cover crop veg veg/cover
Legume cover crops include clovers, alfalfa, field peas, crop (repeat)
hairy vetch, field fava beans, sweet clover, soybeans, 2. Extensive: Veg/small grain small grain/
cowpeas, etc. The clovers and alfalfa are perennial sod hay hay (legume and grass sod) veg/cover
crops, while the others are grown as annuals in different crop (repeat)
parts of the season. Mixes of legumes and grasses often
give the best overall results. Tried and true examples In the first example, a vegetable crop is grown every
are rye and hairy vetch; oats, triticale, and field peas; year, while in the second, there are two vegetable crops
and timothy and alfalfa or clover. in every four years. Since vegetable crops are generally
worth far more than grain, hay, or cover crops, the first
Two outstanding references on cover crops are the rotation would seem to be more remunerative than the
Northeast Cover Crop Handbook, by Marianne Sarran- second. However, pest and weed problems are almost
tonio (1994), and Managing Cover Crops Profitably, guaranteed to be worse in rotation 1, requiring far more
by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, 2nd ed. (1998). effort and expense. So rotation 2, in fact, may make the
grower more money. Anne and Eric Nordell of Beech
Grove, PA have taken this extensive vegetable rotation
idea to a very high level.

From a soil fertility standpoint, rotation 2 is also easier

to manage. The cover crop used in rotation 1 will often
be cereal rye, since rye can be planted late in the sea-

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son, allowing for late vegetable harvest. Since rye is will be significant. Adding excessive nutrients is also
not a legume, it supplies no extra nitrogen to the field. wasteful. In other words, it is not a good sustainable
Nitrogen must be added the following year for good practice.
yields, so most growers put on additional compost.
As we will see below, on a continuing basis this will Oddly enough, even when soil P is in the high range,
result in excess applications of P and K (and perhaps it is possible that some crops on some soils can be P-
other minerals as well). Soil nutrients will gradually deficient under cool conditions. The crops will grow
but continually build up in rotation 1. Also, the soil out of that deficient state when the soil warms. My
physical condition will be degraded by lack of rest suggestion would be to use row covers and other means
from constant vegetable production. This will further to warm the plants and the soil if you want really early
increase the need for compost. crops, and soil P will not be a problem.

Rotation 2, however, allows for improvement of soil Potassium is another issue. It can also leach into the
quality with a sod crop, and plenty of nitrogen from groundwater, but is not considered a problem pollut-
the sod plowdown. Other nutrients can be held at stable ant like phosphorous. However, very high K levels
levels. In fact, if need be, P and K can be removed may interfere with plant uptake of other cations like
from this system by harvesting hay off the field. Little calcium or magnesium. The science gets fuzzy in this
compost needs to be added into this rotation to maintain area, but soil organisms may also not be getting what
overall nutrient levels and soil fertility. they need under very high K conditions. If your soil
tests show continually increasing K levels, that also
Organic matter levels can be high in either rotation 1 raises a warning flag.
or 2. But rotation 1 will require continual additions of
compost to keep them high. Over 20 years or more of
production, P and K levels will become very high in Contaminants
rotation 1, but will remain fairly stable in rotation 2 if
hay is removed from the field.
Another aspect of yearly applications of compost that
Other rotations can be designed that combine or alter needs scrutiny is that of contaminants in the compost.
various aspects of these samples, and may incorporate Sewage sludge composts are not allowed for organic
many of the wide variety of cover crops for nitrogen production, in part because of heavy metal contamina-
fixation and weed, insect, or disease control. tion. But this can be a problem in other composts as
well. Some dairy and sheep farms use copper sulfate
foot baths to reduce foot rot diseases. Compost from
Phosphorous and potassium these farms has shown high copper levels. Non-organic
broiler chicken operations routinely feed arsenic-based
coccidiosis control compounds as well. Yearly appli-
Are very high P and K levels a problem? Lets start cations of such contaminated composts could lead to
with phosphorous. Fifty years ago, soil phosphorous undesirable soil levels of these heavy metals. Be sure
levels were typically low enough to reduce yields un- to review analyses of the compost you use for heavy
less extra P was applied, so farmers said, the more P, metal content.
the merrier! But after years of P applications, many
agricultural soils now have high or very high P levels.
Compost, especially poultry compost, is extra high In conclusion
in P, so this attitude no longer applies. When soil P
levels get very high, small amounts of P will leach
into groundwater and, in the long run, degrade lakes To sum up, I suggest that poor fields can benefit from
and ponds. This is not good stewardship, even though heavy compost or manure applications for a few years.
the overall phosphorous pollution contribution from Once soil nutrient levels and biological activity are
organic vegetable farms is small. Soil high in organic increased to high levels, a diverse rotation including
matter is less nutrient leaky than those whose OM is vegetables, sod and cover crops has many benefits and
low. But eventually levels can build so high that losses avoids nutrient overloading problems.

Soil and Nutrient Management 23

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Soil and Nutrient Management Practices on

Upingill Farm
Transcript of a presentation by:

Cliff Hatch
Upingill Farm
Gill, Massachusetts

I dont have very many slides today; usually I bring too of this lake effect snow which becomes lake effect
many. Also this is the first time I have ever been asked rain in the summertime and then we also get hurricane
to talk on this subject. I think 90 percent of my talks season that blows up from the coast. So, unless you are
are always on strawberries and they generally center on exceptionally well drained land in the Connecticut
around weed control, so it is kind of nice to have to Valley, at least for me anyway, since I am not on the
think of something else to talk to you folks about. We really well drained stuff, I generally have too much
will sort of plod through the pictures and I think by water in my environment.
comparison to what I picked up out of Jean-Pauls and
what else has gone on here today, my talk will be very Also, the soils I am working primarily are silt loams,
anecdotal on this subject. at least all of our level land where we do most of our
crop production. Our biggest single crop is strawber-
In general, I would have to say that much of our farm ries. It wasnt what I had intended when I first went
is branded as certified organic, but I have never con- for my first career which was a chef. I decided that
sidered myself an organic farmer. I consider myself my farm was going to have three main enterprises all
much more a traditionalist in the sense that the part integrated in a really nice way. We were going to grow
of the world that I come from, I come from a family wheat, raise my bees and I was going to have small
of farmers that have always been farmers. It just has livestock, basically sheep. I was never going to have
never gone out of our family. What has happened in anything more than sheep and chickens. I spent my
my life is largely just a large part of chance. teenage years chasing my fathers cattle around the
county and I never wanted to see another cow on my
The land I farm is very typical of New England. You farm. As you will see as you go through this all of this
will see from most of these photos that it is almost has changed because really the way you were raised
like we are in the middle of a rain forest the way the and what is in your genes I guess probably just tends
forest has crept back in around the edges of the field. to keep coming back to you.
Because so few people keep animals anymore, all the
marginal land has just gone back to woods. All of the This is a typical soil, typical field of ours with our
land that we farm is probably class-I and class-II soil. biggest crop. We basically keep about five acres of
strawberries in production and we have two types
As it just happens to us, most of the land that we farm of production on the farm. We have our strawberry
due to our climate being in New England we get all production and we have our vegetable production. In

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one sense for years I have been trying to get out of that we grow that we intercrop with all the rye that
vegetable production because of the low capital input we grow for mulching the berries and stuff like that.
it is almost where every farmer starts in our neck of We make sure that the bees are standing right on the
the woodswith organic vegetable production. There hillside at the farm.
is a lot of heavy price competition from people who
havent been in business and dont really know what We grow a lot of vine crops as you can see. Our big-
it is costing them to be in business. gest vine crop is not so much squashes, which are for
our own stand in the fall, we grow a pretty good size
After a few years in the vegetable business one day melon crop. Primarily musk melons, but we are also
I went to my cousins strawberry operation to pick growing watermelons, regular cantaloupes and some
strawberries and I went from being a leek farmer to a other exotic melons because now that our brand name
strawberry farmer in about twenty minutes of picking is established with our melons in these markets we can
strawberries in his field and seeing hundreds of people offer a whole line of things and the melons kind of are
coming to pick his strawberries for him and do his work paying the payroll for the summer labor that we need
for him I decided that that lonely work I was doing out in our berries.
in the middle of all that mud in November with those
leeks was for the birds. It just wasnt making it for me. We have a lot of things happening on the farm at this
I was in physical therapy for my back. Lots of stuff point. One of the reasons we got into bees was that we
just wasnt happening right. had no land and bees dont really respect the boundar-
ies that everyone else has so the bees basically would
We started with the berries big time in the early 90s do a fly over and bring back a crop for us.
and I really think the demographics in the strawberry
you-pick is only going to get better as the population When we first moved into the county my wife and I
ages. You can see from these first few slides, after I go were both working in the city and we decided that we
through my introduction of my farming, I am going had to change our lifestyle and for raising our children.
to go into some of our strawberry cultural practices. We were living between Boston and Providence. I
I dont have a lot of vegetable slides because since I worked in Providence, she worked in Boston and we
always do strawberry talks, I have lots of strawberry split between the two and we saw each other kind of
slides, but I do have some of our vegetable stuff. when we put the children in one anothers arms. We
decided to leave that and come back to the small farm
Our vegetable stuff is primarily field type things that that she had grown up on. It wasnt a farm when she
we do now for our farm stand to decorate it in the fall. grew up on it, it was just a hobby farm where they
The bees have stuck with our operation. They are a raised some horses. We started out with that and started
real integral part of it. Partly because honey and bees renting little pieces of land around the town and then
have such a good image. What we are endeavoring finally we got well enough established that people
is to get out of the certified organic trap that we are would trust us with a little bit bigger piece of land. I
basically in as not being a big grower, we still need come from a farming family and basically I ended up
third party certification because a lot of our produce selling farms in that town and using them as a land
gets shipped to Vermont. There are some co-ops up swap arrangement to eventually buy a bigger farm.
there, but basically once our own retail business at our
own farm is going well enough we hopefully can drop So, what we will go over when we get into the soil
that oversight thing and just do things that we want to fertility management thing is what is happening as
do. Having the bees on the farm and as a honey sales we start with the resource management of that farm
person it just acts as a really good all over thing with trying to incorporate traditional stuff with that. What
the public. It has good image. Not only that, I end up we started farming for was a better way to raise our
using some cover crops that probably some people children. That was our primary mission with our farm.
tend to avoid. That is kind of how the cattle have come into the pic-
ture. Part of me rediscovering that cows werent so
We grow a lot of buckwheat because it gets us through bad, but also that I dont like feeding my children dairy
the summer dearth on nectar in our cover cropping product that we found in the store. I dont believe that
program. Also, it makes use of the clover and stuff a homogenized milk product is at all healthy for you

Soil and Nutrient Management 25

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as well as the other stuff, plus I have always wanted for me, but this is sort of like the old share cropping
to make cheese. situation. I will give you space to raise your chickens
if you feed or help to sell them. She manages the front
My grandfather was an international grand champion of the farm during the you-pick time. It has also been
breeder of Ayshire cattle from 1930 to 1950. When good for my daughter. It has been one of her big proj-
I went out shopping for cattle, I naturally explored ects. Believe it or not raising chickens can land you a
whether or not I could get some stock that would trace $30,000 scholarship. She won a total scholarship to go
back to the time when my parents and my heritage to college with. One of the kickers when we were at
ruled the roost in that breed. We had our first Ayshire this luncheon that they had, the chairman of the search
calf just this past year. My little son that came along committee comes up to her and says, Oh, youre the
rather late in life glommed right on to it. Of course women who raises her own chickens. She has been
the calf is growing a lot faster than him and he can not involved with Vicki doing this throughout. Vicki and
handle it now, but thats all right. There you can see I had always done the eviscerating and slaughtering
the start of our Ayshire herd with the other calf that and she does kind of the day to day management of the
was born this year. birds. She finally got to really get her hands into the
operation with us, too. But, it is all part of what I think
You can see where our farm is situated. Those are the our farm is really about which is basically creating a
hives right between the cows up on the hillside. Our good way to raise our children.
ultimate plan for this farm is that we will have horned
cattle grazing on the hillside to sell that cheese at the I still use conventional tillage. It is part of my tradi-
farm stand. My plan is that ultimately we will keep tional attitude. It is kind of the only thing I know. It is
doing vine crops, vegetable crops and potato crops also what I have and what I started out with. I try to be
for a fall farm stand along with raspberries that we are good about it in terms of field passes, etc. We generally
getting into and then the cheese is basically my winter try to do our plowing and our harrowing in one pass
operation as I am growing older. I find as I am getting by using a clod-buster following the plow so that we
in to my 50s that the field work that I used to do out dont go back and re-harrow. We use pretty much the
in the sun just isnt the greatest anymore. Hopefully, I same method whether it is melons or potatoes, the only
am going to turn that over to people who are younger difference in the next shot is we prepare raised beds
than myself and think it is a lot of fun. for most of our stuff because our soils tend to be very
heavy and we have more than adequate rain fall. This is
This year we started putting in a food processing an alluvial deposit. There is a 20-foot drop between this
plant in the farm to sell more value added berries and deposit and its drainage basin. Our biggest problem in
other value added products to make my cheese in and terms of structural fertility is generally too much water
to handle the milk and stuff. That will keep me busy and not enough air and soil life created from that. So,
during the winter. I have always had to shift gears most of our stuff we put into some sort of raised bed.
throughout my career. It is no different now. Now I am We do all of our melons into raised beds.
going back to constantly try and remember all that stuff
that my parents used to talk about with the cattle and We have traditionally used plastic mulch on melons
theyre gone. I dont have them to ask the questions of. and a lot of our vine crops. What we are going to
now is doing a living mulch, but what we have been
The other thing that we are doing is raising pastured experimenting with is putting down our plastic in the
poultry. It is always nice on a hot day in the summer fall. Putting down compost or manure in the fall and
time to start slaughtering chickens. All of these things then laying the plastic right on top of that. We would
work in. Our compost piles are basically fancy manure have already previously drilled in rye. The rye comes
piles. They will range in everything from potatoes to up within the lanes in the spring and all we do instead
some feed corn that may have gotten moldy with a large of having to add mulch at that point is basically roll
component of cattle manure and bedding all just put in the rye down. It has worked out to be a nice system.
a heap until it is has been steaming for awhile and once We are also taking it to the point which we are going
the action has quieted down it becomes safe to put on to try this year in our field where we do not take up the
the fields. The pastured poultry has been a project to get plastic and we are going to try making it go another
other people involved on the farm. This woman works cycle because the rye was interseeded with clover and

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that clover is now what is coming up between the lanes ment. I dont know if you are familiar with re-miner-
in that plastic. alize the earth or not. Over on the side there is a pile
of stuff with which we are involved in an experiment
Our basic method is if we have to correct any nutrient with some researchers at U-Mass and some people for
levels at this point we probably would have done it The Publication for Remineralizing the Earth. What
through a broadcast application. Generally, we find their thought was is that soils that have been farmed
with most of our soils that we almost always need to a long time had been depleted of a lot of their trace
have an addition of potassium and our cheapest and minerals. There are several big quarrying operations
most convenient thing to apply for that is Sul-po-mag. in our valley and a grant writer got the idea that we
We are able to get that for about $225 per ton. It goes should take some of these mineral wastes from these
on nice. It does a good job for potassium sulfate and we gravel operations and see what would be the affect
generally put that on with our clover covers, etc. The of adding these minerals to the soils. There were two
strawberries in their establishment have a relatively types of stuff available. This was trap rock dust from
low nitrogen requirement, which is kind of a nice thing the crushing of stones that they use primarily as schist
for our key crop. whose key ingredient is calcium. We have that stuff
available to us and then we have the float from a gravel
Also, as it ends up for us, in most research on strawber- operation where when they are washing gravel there
ries you cant make them phosphorous deficient. Most will be all of these minerals that they want to wash out
of our soils always test phosphorous deficient. Even and then that becomes a waste product and they have
on soils where we have gotten our organic matter ap- all this cloudy stuff with minerals at the construction
proaching five percent we have started to have some pit for you to go pick up for free. People were using
good indications of available phosphorous already that in the area also.
there. Our silty loam soils, the way it is explained
to me, that the phosphorous is there it is just hidden These researchers asked me if I would help them out.
between the particles and it is not available. So, we We used this in various ways and it actually did work
are generally on phosphorous deficient soil which is very well against Botrytis in strawberries. But as far
the other reason why the berries are a good thing in as raising the brix level of the fruit by applying this to
our estimation with our soil. So, basically a broadcast the soil, no it will never happen. We applied it to grain
application and then we make these ridges. If this was crops instead of our cover crops. We did not get any
going to be a potato field, our potato planter does pretty results. The hypothesis was disproved. It is an inter-
much the same thing. We try to keep everything on the esting thing in terms of soil fertility. If you do have a
same system so that it can all be managed accordingly. quarry in your area that does crush rock and you can
get it, what is nice about it is that most of our soils
After we have created the ridges, we primarily use also kind of have a little bit too much magnesium in
Wilson cultivators. We also use these for bed forma- them. The Lee lime that they get in the Berkshires is
tion as well, but we use basically the same system a high magnesium lime and that is generally what is
for hilling our potatoes or cultivating between things, available in our area. Actually as a source for calcium
etc. It is our main piece of cultivating equipment. On without excess magnesium, different rock powders like
our soils what works for us is keeping everything up this from various quarries do come in handy. This one
on these ridges. The only place where we do not do had high calcium and would help buffer the soils pH
this in on the hillside slope that you are going to see but it did not add the excess magnesium.
in a little bit. This piece of land is Hartland silt loam.
We grow potatoes on this land. This particular piece The other thing in terms of approaching our fertility,
of land fell prey to a practice of previous farmers of especially with the strawberries and the other cash
always putting lime on their manure when they were crops we rotate with strawberries is leeks. I cant
spreading manure on their fields. The pH in this field look at just my fertility as a single issue. I will not put
was running like 7.5-8.0 which is kind of high for most any animal manures and especially my own compost
of the crops that we like to grow. stuff on this land where I am going to grow berries or
leeks. We rely primarily on plant cover crops and then
A sideline that we were doing on this land that I dont the additions of things like Sul-po-mag or black rock
think is worth doing is we got involved in an experi- phosphate and pure minerals like that.

Soil and Nutrient Management 27

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We have also gone to making all of our own straw Alfalfa, orchard grass with a lot of quack grass by the
because anytime we have bought straw it is almost like time we got it.
going out and paying for somebody elses problems.
We have introduced a lot of really nice German chamo- The 14 acre field is two types of soil. There is a Rayn-
mile with New York State wheat straw into our fields ham silt loam which is at the lowest parts of it and it has
at different times. You just create a lot of nightmares a Hartland silt loam in the upper part and the Hartland
with that. Basically, 60 lbs of nitrogen per acre for the ranges out into some Merrimac at the extreme headland
total vegetative year of this crop. That is not hard to of the field. The Merrimac is a really fine soil for do-
make at all. We are planting at usually about 14,000 ing organic production on because it is one of those
28,000 plants per acre. We do a delayed planting to extremely sandy soils. The Hartland silt loam is real
help aid with our weed control in these and the crop nice on this and it is the upper part there and that is
just ahead of this was the rye cover crop. We almost were we are putting all the berries. Our first year with
always precede our strawberries with sudan grass the this field to get it started we did that center strip which
season before that. After that land is seeded with su- you see plowed up the center of it. The upper half of
dan grass we will go through seasons of clover on the that was the first place that we planted strawberries.
land before it is replanted to leeks. We will generally That piece of land had been in continuous silage corn
follow leeks and strawberries back and forth. This is for about 15 years. The organic matter tested out in
one of the few things that I dont think does anything that field at five percent organic matter content. The
bad to my strawberries. If I can get sweet corn, we are farmer that I bought it from was a traditional guy with
currently going in to having sweet corn at our farm a lot of cattle and huge equipment to really put down
stand. If we can get sweet corn to be weed free we will a lot of manure. Our first year growing rye on that
probably grow that ahead of strawberries also because the rye at the end of May, early June was up to about
as a relative of corn, etc. it would not vector anything eight foot high and the stalks were so thick on it that
bad to our berries. the equipment could not handle the stuff.

The addition of the rye straw is probably the single big- The fertility on the field was incredible from this
gest source of organic matter. We are putting down an management, but the weed problems in it were also
incredible amount of straw. We are putting out at least unbelievable in terms of everything that had been
six tons to the acre every single year. The plants are put on it. Every kind of broadleaf chemical had been
there for at least two to three years besides everything used on the land and an entirely new family of weeds
else that we have plowed into the land. The production is always waiting for you each year. The years that
of our rye straw is a major undertaking every year. We we have been bringing this farm out of that kind of
are probably putting in at least 10-15 acres into the production to make it fit for growing strawberries has
barn of rye straw every year. As one of our biggest been a long hard climb.
crops and work activity, what we do is plant the rye
in late August, September, October all the way up to This slide shows that whole center strip those berries
November if we can and we basically interseed most are now out of production and plowed under. We would
of our rye, almost all of it with red clover. After we have disked them over as soon as we were finished
mow the rye in the spring we do not go back and have harvesting them in July. This is basically August/
to do any tillage. The clover will come on. Hairy vetch September when we are getting ready to sow our rye.
does not recover from the mowing it never seems You can see on the right hand part of the middle field
to come back. I dont know why, it just doesnt. To just below that black section, that is one of the fields
me is seems like it should, the red clover will always that we cut rye off of and it is basically all clover for
come back. the summer period before we plow it under again and
plant rye on it. Just ahead of that you see two white
The farm has two major resources, the one 14 acre strips going back and that is part of our buckwheat. I
flat field that you see going in the center field of the like to plant buckwheat. When I am first getting onto a
photo and there is another 10 acre field that we are piece of land I generally plant buckwheat on it just to
contour farming which is where I am standing taking assess what the land can do. If there is any part where
this photo from. I am standing in the middle of the buckwheat doesnt grow there probably is some kind
alfalfa field that was there when we bought the farm. of a serious problem. The headlands in this field would

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not grow buckwheat. There had been so much traffic There is also a strip of pumpkins in this contour also.
for years of harvesting the silage and the plowing pat-
terns of the field that the entire headlands at the further Now this backs up to part of our strawberry rotation
end of that piece would not grow buckwheat because you can see the buckwheat growing. As soon as we
of the soil compaction and also because there was a disked off those strawberries I usually put buckwheat
slope at the end that was bringing too much water on as a smother crop for weeds during the summer.
into that part of the field. Between diverting it and There are still some berries in there that we are prob-
growing various crops on it and going over it lightly ably going to try taking to a third year fruiting in that
we are now growing on that part of the field. There back piece and this is the group of berries that we just
were a couple acres at the headland of that field that planted this year. That land before the berries were
werent productive because of water and compaction planted had buckwheat on it for two years with rye
and serious problems with that. covers in the meantime. Last year it had a crop of
sudan grass with cowpeas and other things on it that
Over on the left you see a strip that went through our we plowed down. The rye was on it right before we
micro-cropping pattern which was to grow buckwheat planted it and that is the other reason for our delayed
to assess what it would do. I can generally get three planting because we will take the rye off and then do
crops of buckwheat into a piece of land in a single our planting.
year, if I can, out of a single sowing before I plant rye
on it for the winter. Rye or winter barley, either one. Generally, what we have been using with the demise of
I will put on winter barley if it is quick enough. We Agway is they had a lot of fertilizers that they bought
have to get it planted before the first of October. We when they wanted to get into the organic produc-
cant really get a good stand of barley in our latitude tion business and I did a pretty sizable purchase of a
if we put it on later than that. Anything later than that chicken fertilizer that they had put together. It includes
has to be rye. everything from manure to chickens, body parts and
everything that they manufactured to sell to organic
The winter barley is a great feed for cattle, for pigs, farms. With their bankruptcy there was a big stock of
sheep and any kind of waterfowl love it and most fowl this at the local fertilizer plant that I bought up. We
love it also. There are a few dietary things you have to have bought that and used it for top dressing in things
watch because it is very abrasive to the gut. You either like our renovated strawberries, this was 6-6-6. In our
have to soak it or grind it or something, but it is a mar- renovation of strawberries if our nitrogen levels are
velous feed and it is pretty easy to grow. It threshes out low we go out and buy it in some form like that.
nice. There again a straw from that I generally will sell
to someone else after we thresh out the straw because We have not had good luck on berries doing things like
it will be too weedy for putting back on our land. What using alfalfa meal and soy. We have done that in years
we like to grow is basically rye hay. We thresh out virtu- when all of a sudden there was a problem. I am not
ally none of the rye. We harvest it in early June when sure exactly what was going on in those fields where
it is just headed up and once it is mowed it is dead and we used a feed ingredient as a fertilizer, but I never
then the clover can come on in the field. had such problems with a crop as I had when I used
that and I cant explain why. The plants were anemic
The center brown spot, where those stripes of white are and it came on suddenly. Tissue samples showed
growing is where we took out the planting of straw- nothing. We had no nutrient imbalances of the major
berries and we will probably put you-pick peas in this things, anyway, but they just werent thriving. It is
strip next year because when we are up there picking possible it could have a seasonal thing. It was kind
berries people will get a hold of that. of a cold, wet season. But, it was the only thing I had
done differently from anything that I had ever done
The other thing on this farm is on this slope that you with berries before. We had other berry plantings on
are looking at that we have planted, the upper part is the farm that were doing fine but the field were we
still in alfalfa that will get plowed down next year and put our combination of soy meal and Sul-po-mag,
we will put field corn for grain on the top of the hill. because they were the only things that would match
There is a strip of sweet corn and then there are strips organic certification that the local fertilizer mill could
of sorghum and then there is buckwheat at the bottom. put together for the planting and because they had run

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out of what they had that was NOFA approved and so a way of keeping weeds down and putting stuff right
they made that up for us. We applied that and used that back in to the land.
as the fertilizer. Broadcast, did our hilling and usual
things and then halfway through the season, basically You can see a crop of sudan grass and above that you
when it was time for them to run and vegetate they can see the corn. Next year where that sudan grass and
just stopped. There were no nematode problems, there corn are will be re-seeded into rye and red clover over
werent any of those other things that there should the winter and then where the alfalfa is at the top will
have been and that was the only thing I changed in be plowed down next year and field corn will go in up
my management. This is back in the days when we there. This is another shot of the same thing except, I
used to raise several acres of leeks. The same soil, dont know how evident it is to you, but the key things
this is our key crop that we like to integrate with our we have had to do on this farm is the drainage. The
berries if we are going to grow another cash crop on drainage ditches that were in it are all filled in. It is our
the land with them and work in as a rotation this is biggest thing. Soil that is holding too much water has
my preferred thing with that. no life in it. That strip of buckwheat is for a new plant-
ing of raspberries next year. We broke the sod on that
We irrigate on our land primarily for frost control hillside two years ago, put it to rye and the following
where we very seldom have to put down water for year it was in a summer crop of buckwheat and next
water sake. It is usually not necessary. We have had year it will be civilized enough and the sod broken out
one or two seasons where I have watered crops for fear that we can put raspberries in there.
of losing it to drought. Generally, if we are watering
we are either evaporative cooling which we will do I am happy to take a question at this point of anyone
on potatoes a lot, especially in the summer. Potatoes has one.
like to be cooled down in the afternoon. They dont
like hot days they like to go in to the night cool. We
will water at midday on strawberries for evaporative Questions and answers
cooling and then this past year we got to spend many
sleepless nights watering all night long to keep things
from freezing. That is winter barley in the foreground Q: I find that rye can be a problem to handle. How
of the photograph. This is probably just immediately do you manage it for the least problems?
after setting plants and we are watering them in once
they have been set in the raised beds on there. The only A: Likewise with you I have had rye in all kinds of
place we really do not do that creation of the ridge is forms. The worse problem with combined rye is that
on that contour. it has too much rye seed still in it. Most growers will
not reset the concaves and get the grain out of it. It
This farm as you can see from this wet area that is is a pretty small seed so you end up with tons of rye
running right through the center of the field were there seed and rye since it doesnt winter kill like oats or
is a lot of hazel wood growing etc. In terms of what something like that is nasty stuff to have as mulch if
it points out to there, saturated soils like that in a low it is really rye straw.
spot are virtually used as grazing land. There really
is nothing you can do with them in tillage. They are The other problem with rye if you use combined rye
better off as a resource just left. Even grazing them is that they dont thresh it until late July or August.
at the extreme banks is a problem. Then the strip go- It takes a really long time for the seed to get to the
ing up the hill, the lower part of that strip we used for point where they can combine it. Generally, you have
vine crops and then each edge of the contour on it, a lot of other weeds in the field. Unless they are using
basically on the left edge we are raising raspberries, a really good herbicide management plan on it most
we have a perennial crop that does not require any rye straw will be infested with weeds and more rye.
tillage. Because it is a small part of the field it would My experience lately has been, like with this field that
be difficult to be turning a tractor in and around. We has had so much high fertility and grows such rank
plan to do pastured poultry also on that section, put- rye that my machinery cant handle, I cut it fairly
ting the poultry in amongst the raspberries on that as early. You cut it as early as you can when you have

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the weather in your side. At our latitude basically A: A couple of things about it. Number one the rye
from May 30th on if there is enough crop in the field is cheap. Rye is going to run you about $9 to $12 for
to make a crop for you as far as what you want, cut 50-100 weight, depending on how you are buying it
the stuff. The earlier you cut it the less weed seed you and it is untreated seed they do not put any work into it.
are going to have. As soon as it heads up. If the head
has formed it will not regrow. You can wait until the Compared to other species, most other species of cereal
cuticle on the leaf dries down if you want a stalk on grains they have developed have very low amounts of
it, but the other thing you have to worry about is if straw and very high amounts of grain. Most of the rye
you let it get too high. we plant as cover crop is still primitive in that respect
and has a massive amount of straw compared to the
If you take rye that is grown to eight foot and on re- amount of grain in it. The barely that you saw in that
ally good land rye will get up to eight foot high with other shot, if we get a couple of tons of straw off an
no problem, by the time that goes through a hay baler, acre we would be doing really good where as we can
unless you have got a chopper, you go to shake the stuff probably get six tons off any acre of rye easily. Because
out you are going to have strands like this that you are it is just that much more product in straw compared to
trying to put down around stuff. It will be a very poor the grain species. Most of the wheat that you see grow-
mulch. It wont keep any of your weeds out either. I ing out in this part of the world, I guess it is actually
used to mow it myself with a disk. I have a disk mower. called Geneva, which is the principle soft wheat grown
Now I pay the farmer next door, who since the local in much of the northeast now. The stuff doesnt even
straw dealer went out of business the dairy farmer next get to two feet high and it has these huge seed heads
door had taken to growing rye and selling it. As he is on it. It is a very highly bred plant. It is bred for grain
cutting his rye I have him cut it with a disc-bine. He it is not bred for producing straw.
has a flail conditioner after his mower which pulver-
izes the stock so it dries better. We have a chopper that Plus the rye will also germinate. No matter how late
chops it. We put all of our rye through a bale chopper. you are in your management you can put that stuff on
We have a trailer with a chopper mounted on the front. in the middle of November and it can make a catch.
We load the trailer with about 40-50 bales and the It is a really remarkable plant. The other thing that
chopper is out in front and we just throw whole bales we do with it is the rye was planted on this contour
into it and it chops it up. The rye hay is no problem. and you can see that it is gone now. We have our rye
That is one advantage that combining has is the extra down on our berries. We put these guys out on it, too
between having gone through a combine and then go- and they were making a remarkable amount of milk
ing through a baler you could generally hand shake it on it. It is really incredible how much milk they make
out and it is not bad. The rye hay is really nice if you on a bin of rye.
have a chopper to do it. We flail condition it. The other
thing you can do to make it easier to handle is let it Q: Do you have any problems with pests?
get rained on a few times. Dont worry about it, let the
stuff get rained on it will help break the cuticle down A: We have a lot of problems in our organic berries
on it. Just rake it again, dry it out again and then bale with strawberry rootworm, it is our biggest pest.
the stuff. Your baler will probably handle it a lot bet-
ter, too. Because it is so waxy, most balers, unless they For tarnished plant bugs I can tell you what not to do.
have straw tuckers, the baler cant handle the stuff. It We do scouting and we put in a lot of traps for captur-
goes through too fast and it is a weird adjustment you ing them. Dont leave rye standing or any weediness or
have to make on a hay baler to handle that stuff, but aging plant near them. Ill relate the worst experience
most people who bale straw have special bale retarders we had with tarnished plant bugs this past year. I left
in their balers to handle a waxy cuticle. I know that a strip of rye standing near a stretch of strawberries,
is kind of an essay answer to what you thought was hopefully to act as a windbreak and create a nice little
simple question. microclimate to boost those berries along because they
were a late variety and I wanted them quicker. We never
Q: Why do you use rye if its so tricky to manage? had such an infiltration of tarnished plant bugs as we
did in a patch of strawberries with a wintered over

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crop like that left standing beside them. It just was an they have been around the longest and growers have
enormous pest gatherer. bought them the most.

Q: Are you sure it was the rye? I am always kind of a contrarian and I always was
buying more exotic ones and pricier ones and I never
A: Well it could have been chance because also there is had such good luck as when I bent back to getting
a strip of rye between them and a hay field and the hay something like Honeyoyes which are a good New
field also could act as basically a reservoir for tarnished York State development. They are the most productive
plant bugs, the hay field had alfalfa and other species strawberry I grow or that I think anybody can grow.
that tarnished plant bugs like and I have tried putting They are a good sturdy plant. They are not good when
reservoirs of alfalfa near strawberries but tarnished they get over ripe, but they have amazing production.
plant bugs just love that little white blossom they will Theyre a good plant maker because in strawberries
always come over and get some. for organic production the key thing that you are going
to want to do is be on a nice light friable soil that you
Just as well we have to watch for tarnished plant bugs can do a lot of hoeing.
whenever we are using row covers because the row
cover will boost their populations also. They like be- Unlike most other things, to get strawberries estab-
ing under that row cover it helps them out just like it lished in a weed free way, if you want to get a couple
helps the berries out. They are a major problem. Cold years production on them. They are really devilish
is your best asset against them. Early fruit doesnt get on weeds. Strawberries dont mind other plants they
bothered by them as much as all of your late varieties. have no bad will against any other plant. They think
Jewels, Late Glows and all those things and there is that growing in the edge of the woods in a bunch of
very few effective organically approved pesticides that weeds is just where they belong. They appreciate the
will be effective on tarnished plant bug. shade that they get from other plants. The only way
being able to counter their whole thing for organic
We do not have any problems with root weevil. The production is to increase their planting density so that
strawberry rootworms we cant really live with. I have they are shading one another and keeping each other
tried various management strategies and I thought I had cool because that is what they really like. They like
figured it out, but this past year I got another infesta- nice cool roots. I dont know how people get them to
tion after having gotten rid of them for awhile. I look survive in plastic. I have never seen strawberries that
at that as a syndrome. Usually we get a strawberry I thought looked happy growing in that stuff. Nice
rootworm problem whenever I damage some roots on well drained soil that can be cool like a north slope.
some strawberries and in this case I hit them kind of If you have a nicely drained north slope and you have
hard with some cultivators when we were renovating. eradicated the perennial weeds in it to some degree
It was a dry time and it was just this one section I did something like Honeyoye.
not feel like resetting the irrigation to irrigate this one
little patch and those stressed plants got a patch of Honeyoye is a really nice berry, but in strawberries it is
strawberry root worms in them who have proceeded going to depend a lot on your marketing and how you
to try to take over more than I think that they have any are selling them as far as what will go well. Honeyoye
right to have. is a good all over berry. Cavendish works really good
for you-pick operation, but it does have some white
Q: What varieties of strawberries do you use? fruit problems. The only ones I would probably tend
to avoid for organic operations are anything that is
A: This is supposed to be soil fertility and it turned sensitive to leaf spot. You probably should avoid these
into another strawberry lecture. What varieties of because even the copper based fungicides which are the
strawberries, for what? only thing you really have in an organic management
program to fight leaf spot with are extremely toxic to
The way you can always tell the ones that are good strawberries. They just dont like copper. If you have
for production are they are usually the ones that are bad leaf spot on a plant and youre not able to control
the lowest price in the nurserymans catalog because that fungus, if leaf spot gets onto the calyx it makes

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very unattractive fruit; nobody buys it. They dont

care how organic it is. Theyll hop over that fruit with
the damaged calyx, wont sell in anybodys market
compared to something with a nice looking calyx. So
a Midway would be one to avoid in that respect.

In conclusion

I have arranged this one as the last slide as far as the

cows out grazing on the cover crop. It is incredible
with them. I had always been told by my father that
rye would make the milk stink and not to graze your
cattle on it. You couldnt keep them off of this stuff.
They would wait at the gate and would much rather
be out there shuffling through the snow than eating
something else and the milk didnt stink and the butter
was extremely yellow.

Soil and Nutrient Management 33

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Soil and Nutrient Management Practices on

Roxbury Farm
Transcript of a presentation by:

Jean-Paul Courtens
Roxbury Farm
Kinderhook, New York

I caution you that everything you heard today you will What I like to point out in the first slide is the analysis
hear again in a different way. So hang in there, there on one of the tables of our own compost made from
will be some repeats, but hopefully some practical dairy manure. The same table is also in your handouts.
application on what you already heard by the other As you can see here compost is a much drier product
speakers. I noticed some different approaches on fertil- than animal manure, and you can compare the numbers
ity management here and there. For example, Harold as far as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Since
differentiates three qualities in determining soil fertil- the compost is made from cow manure, they are rela-
ity. I distinguish one more, and I make the case for a tively comparable. The numbers go up a little bit when
fourth quality, which is called structural fertility. I see made into compost. The number that is considerably
this as a quality that in itself needs to be recognized. higher in compost than in manure is the organic and the
dry matter, which I think is fascinating. I always won-
Let me walk you through these four different qualities dered about how the dry matter can contain so much
one by one. I will start with chemical fertility. more than organic matter, but I just have to believe the
analysis. What you have to realize with the nitrogen
in the compost, is that it all consists of nitrates, while
Chemical fertility the eleven pounds of nitrogen in the solid cow manure
is half ammonia and half nitrates. I also have some
numbers here of pigs, chickens and horses.
I realize we mostly concentrate on vegetables, but I
like to mention that when maintaining the chemical The other thing I wanted to point out is that the poultry
fertility of our land, the hayfields are usually much manure analysis shows high phosphorus levels. When
more self-sufficient than the vegetable fields. I think you look at the needs and fertility requirements for
this is an important thing to notice. vegetables development, its needs for phosphorus are
kind of low, so we dont really need poultry manure
But first let us look at the composition of different and in general we could be quite happy with compost
fertilizers. I gave you a handout (pages 4556 in this made from cow manure coming from animals that have
proceedings). By the way, there is no way that I will be not been fed grains. High phosphorus manure comes
able to cover this handout in one hour, which is about from the very high grain diet animals consume. So, you
eight pages printed in a very small font type. will see phosphorus numbers go down for an animal

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that is being fed less grain and lives mostly on a diet it. Again, there is a huge cost involved in it. I happened
of grass and hay. to be in a situation, about ten years ago, where some-
one came to me with just such question. It involved
a corporation that wanted to have an organic farm as
Physical fertility part of the business. They invited me to consult with
them and said, We want to grow vegetables here.
My initial response was, No, youre not. This land
I was in the interesting situation that I had to look has too many obstacles. And they said, Oh, yes, we
for a new piece of land. This is interesting from the are. I did not realize the amount of resources that this
perspective of assessing land for its physical fertility. particular corporation had to make it work. And they
I had to put myself in the shoes of a new farmer. What made it work. So, it is not that it cant work, but nobody
do you do when you look for land? The first thing I in here at least, has the resources to do it.
did was obtaining a soil map from the soil and water
conservation service. It shows you where all the good When it comes to the physical fertility of the piece of
land is in your county, in my case Columbia County. land, you cant make too many changes. I like to relate
Those soil maps showed that a lot of good land, all the to the physical qualifications of a piece of land like the
class-I and class-II soils, are located in Kinderhook. genetic code we inherit. Assume that you found a good
What are class-I and class-II soils? It tells you how piece of land. It is flat and has other positive qualities
they behave, but it does not always mean that they are for growing vegetables; you still have to determine
suitable for vegetables. Some of these class-I soils are what kind of land it is. Is it a sand, silt, or loam soil? I
actually flood plains and frequent flooding does not go tried to compare those soils to a riding or a work horse.
well with growing vegetables. The riding horse is going to be the sandy soil, you get
there quick. It is a means of transportation. They pro-
One of the most important aspects of a physical qual- vide you with early season vegetables. The workhorses
ity of a soil to be suitable for vegetables is that it has are the silt loams. They give some real production all
to have a high carrying capacity. In other words the through the summer. It has a much larger window of
ability to drive your tractors on them. When one inch getting through a drought.
of rain or more doesnt prevent you a day or two later
to get back on there. With a clay soil you are not be So, in short, if you want to grow vegetables, try to get
able to do that. You have a very narrow window to get the best soils you can get your hands on in your par-
on there with your tractors it can drive you crazy. ticular area. In Massachusetts, the best is a Hadley silt
Another aspect is good drainage and is related to the loam; in Columbia County, it is an Unadilla or Occum
first. You also have to have good access to irrigation silt loam. I have no idea what the good soils are in this
water, and a good deep A-horizon or what we generally area, but good land is the best place to start. We found
call the topsoil. These things are all physical qualities. a good piece of land.
These are all things that are very hard to change, and
the list goes on.
Structural fertility
When you determine the physical qualities of a piece
of land, you should accept those as they are, without
the notion that you are going to change it. If you have a When you talk about structural fertility, you define
lot of rocks in your soil, you have the option of buying how all of the different soil particles are connected and
a rock picker. It is going to take a lot of time, a lot of organized in relation to each other. When you want to
money and many resources to get these rocks out of evaluate the structure, you imagine a circle and draw a
the field. In the end it is a lot cheaper to buy a piece of line through the middle; one half of it contains the pores
land that does not contain any rocks to begin with. If in your soil filled with water and air with the other
you already have a piece of land that you might have half containing the mineral component. That image is
inherited, you come to realize there is a cost involved true for good vegetable land. It may not look like that
in making it suitable. If the slope exceeds, say, two for grasslands or for croplands, but especially when
percent you could bring a bulldozer in. You could level growing potatoes and onions you aim for a relatively

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fluffy soil. You can achieve that with equipment, but the plowing which has to happen in the Fall. Given
it is much better if you can accomplish that with other our winters and slopes, exposed soil over the winter
means. A good structure means it has a good ability causes too much erosion. Harold showed a slide of
for roots to penetrate, therefore a good ability to hold how we were taught to plow back in Holland. The
water and to drain water. Now again, all of this has furrows were supposed to be nice and straight, and
already been said before today. I feel like much of shiny. There was this whole idea about this shiny fur-
what I prepared to say today is a repeat, and I will try row that rested over the winter and after that it was
to move into the more practical applications of every- beautifully broken up by the frost Only later did I learn
thing we are doing at our farm. One thing that I might that it was about the worst plowing job one can do.
add and I havent heard anyone mention today, is that The Nordells showed me the benefits of turning the
when you have a clay soil, and I do not recommend soil only slightly without completely turning it over.
this for vegetables, you can improve it by altering When you make the choice to expose the ground and
its chemical component to give it a better structure. loosen it up before the winter it is amazing how that
When, for example, the clay contains low amounts can change its structure. One trick that a lot of people
of calcium, it will start losing its natural structure, it may not know about is that you can cause the same
becomes unstable. effect over the summer. Over the summer when the
soil has become extremely dried up, you can put your
When we talk about tillage, I mean when you are overhead irrigation on and drench the soil. This will
working your soil, a rule of thumb is to take a lump of fracture the soil as well.
your soil in your hand and drop it down from four feet
high. The natural breaking points of your soil allow This slide is an example of some good soil. This was a
this lump to be broken up in smaller pieces. This is a crop of rye being spaded in, and this is what you want
guideline how hard you should work your soil. Soil to be looking for when it comes to a good structural
should have a composition that is build up of natural fertility. The decision to take a field out of vegetable
aggregates. Soil aggregates are relatively small, since crop production is based on what I see. I do not have
you can hardly see them, but they make up the natural any tools available for me to know how the fungi actu-
composition of your soil and are created by root ac- ally hold the soil together, but you can see it. You can
tivity, microorganism, and earth worm activity since see in this slide that there have to be a good amount of
they break up the soil, and through digestion glue soil mycorrhizae and other microorganism that hold the soil
particles of different sizes together. You can disturb this together. At the moment the soil becomes blocky and
natural formed aggregate through the use of a tillage has straight edges, I know it needs a period of rest. I
tool to create a seed bed when this is done in a violent need to take it out of production. I have been working
manner. A rotovator is such a violent tool. What can it too hard. Soil should never feel hard on your hands.
happen is that these tiny aggregates, which we have It should be soft. It doesnt matter if it is clay soil or
seen some beautiful pictures of today, are falling apart. silt loam soil while it is very hard to create structure
The consequence is that after a heavy rain storm the on a sandy soil. It is extremely difficult. It just doesnt
sand, the silt or the clay separate with the smallest have much to it. After incorporating a lot of organic
particle floating to the surface, which causes crusting. matter on a gravely soil it will still feel hard. When it
This will have a detrimental effect on the quality of a comes to the better quality soil, the silt loam and the
seed bed. Root activity is a very important tool for soil clay, they can really feel soft to your hands.
improvement. I will talk more about that later. Biody-
namic preparation 500 is another. Repeatedly, research Aeration incorporation, and seedbed
shows that where the Biodynamic preparations have preparation
been used the soil shows increased microbial activ-
ity, and rooting depth of the plants. The homeopathic Aeration is important both for the breakdown of the
medicine that we use on our land has a real impact on organic matter to release nitrogen, but also to create
its structural fertility. more pore space in your soil. Proper incorporation
of organic material is a very important thing if this
Frost tillage is a common used tool in Holland in re- involves large amounts of organic matter. If you cant
gard to light clay soils. I am not highly recommending incorporate it properly, it cant properly break down.
the use of it in this country because of the timing of It has to be distributed into the soil. We need a quick

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breakdown in the process of creating a seed or plant of sod and I wondered how I would get a quick break
bed. The moldboard plow has no use on our farm any- down. Moldboard plowing was one option. The chisel
more (showing a slide of land being plowed). This plow wasnt. I chose to spade the sod in the spring
is an old slide, since it has been rusting away on our for vegetable crop production that year. It worked. It
lot for it hasnt been used for a long time. The reason proved to result in a very quick breakdown of organic
why, is when I noticed that the kale or corn stalks matter by distributing the organic material.
that were plowed under were still there buried in the
ground at the end of the season. Nothing happened to Here is an example (showing a slide of a spading
them. You want to plow under, say, a tremendous crop machine), of what the soil looks like when you spade
of Sorghum Sudan or anything comparable. What are in sod. Extremely effective, mainly because of the
you doing? You might be creating silage down there. secondary tillage action following the spades. This is
Is that the point? It really doesnt do a lot of good. The not a machine that pushes the spades straight in the
moldboard plow makes a beautiful seedbed though, ground, which is preferable. This is a rotating spading
because it doesnt take much but a pass of a disk and plow. It moves very slowly. It is not at all like a rotova-
we are ready to seed. The plow makes the land look tor. It picks up big clumps of soil with organic matter
nice and clean. It buries all this organic matter. and it inverses it into the soil. You can set it anywhere
between six and twelve inches deep. You can go rela-
After this, we went into a stage where we used the tively shallow with it. But the tool, the power harrow
chisel plow. The chisel plow is a wonderful tool and that goes behind will push all the bigger clumps deeper
we still use it a lot. It is a fast working tool. I like down. So, if you dont go over it again with a harrow
anything that can work up an acre of ground in 20 and bring the clumps back up again, those clumps will
minutes or less. This width of the chisel shown here stay deeper down and not interfere with seeding. If you
is about seven feet. The problem with this tool is that wait long enough they will be decomposed by the time
it leaves a lot of the plant matter relatively close to the you seed. A problem when plant matter stays relatively
surface (Harold would say this is a great thing), well, close to the surface is that it will not decompose, since
for vegetable growers it might be a problem if you decomposition needs moisture.
dont have the right seeders. It will demand several
next passes of discs and harrows to create the right (Showing a slide of incorporating full grown Sorghum
conditions. I am trying to stay away from the disk Sudan) We also wanted to see how much we could do
completely because it has a tendency to cut the soil. with it. This is a full grown crop of Sorghum Sudan.
It can cut the aggregates in pieces, while the s-tines I wouldnt recommend it. It is just one of these things
have a tendency to find the natural breaking points. that we wanted to know what we could do with it.
They rather hammer the soil all the time. This is the Under normal circumstances you would flail mow
process of creating a seedbed. this Sorghum Sudan crop and then spade it in because,
especially when the ground is a little on the wet side,
The problem with this system is that you need to make it will wrap itself around the axle of the spading plow.
many passes on your field, going back and forth, back It has also proven to be a good tool as far as looking
and forth. First you go over it with a chisel plow, then at the whole farm system. We grow thirty acres of
with a disk, then with a Perfecta and then finally with vegetables but can still look at it on a bed-by-bed case.
something that makes a seed bed to make it nice and As soon as the beds of squash are done harvesting we
level. That is four passes. You have aerated the soil all can spade it in and by the next day come in and plant
right but you compacted it again by needing to create a crop of lettuce. You can see here (showing a slide of
a seedbed. This felt very silly to me. So, a couple of a mulched crop of summer squash), with technology,
years ago we purchased a spading machine, although this is what it was before this is not a trick picture.
I was forced to, out of the practical situation we found We went over it exactly one pass.
ourselves. The lease on our land had been terminated.
I had to produce the following year and needed to find Question: How many horsepower do you need to
certifiable organic land. All the good land I found was run the spader?
in corn, and given the herbicides used, I could not
grow vegetables on that land. The only land I found 72 horse power for a two-meter spader. This is a heavy
that would work was in sod. I had to get rid of a lot machine. The nice thing about the Italian models is

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that you can do some real deep tillage with a much the handout at home when you have the energy.
smaller model tractor. For example, comparable to a
chisel plow in order to cover the width of your tractor The important part in fertility management for us
you need a much more powerful with four-wheel drive is based on cows, or on other large hoofed animals.
compared to the same width with a spader. Maybe a little bit too much emphasis has been put
by biodynamic agriculture on cows. They definitely
Question: How is the rotating spading plow dif- have a role but other large hoofed animals can make
ferent from a rotovator? They look like they work similar contributions. I actually like sheep, especially
the same. integrated with vegetables. I like them a lot better than
cows, since cows are incredibly heavy. I have tried it.
Looks are very deceptive I have to go back to the I have had my cows graze some cover crops but I will
slide where you saw the rye. We dug the rye back up never do it again. The ground is so soft in the veg-
after it was spaded in. The integrity of the soil was etables they sink right in there. Sheep are much lighter.
still intact. When you talk about any particular fertil-
ity program on a farm it is really about preserving The point of keeping large animals is that we need
integrity. A rototiller or a disk invades integrity much their manure and turn it into compost. I would never
stronger than this particular spading plow. All of the consider applying fresh manure. Manure is an unfin-
things that you see moving around move relatively ished product. It is half way there. It is great though.
slow. They take big chunks of dirt in the front and It is the first step in the process of decomposing plant
throw it backwards. matter. I feel that the cow adds a lot of qualities to the
plant matter. The inside of the cow is like a plant within
(Showing a slide of a bed former) We need to make an animal. The inside of the stomach is filled with
one more pass to make a seed bed for carrots and salad microorganisms that break down plant matter. When
mix with a bed former. We have a system where our it comes out it is a very volatile product, because it is
tractor wheels are spaced at 72 inches apart, which not completely finished or stable. You have to be very
allows for a 54 inch raised bed top in between the careful with it and if you do not treat it right you will
tires. This raised bed former was made in Ohio for lose many of its positive qualities.
tomatoes. They have a whole culture of plum tomatoes
in Indiana and Ohio and they grow them on raised In this particular case (showing a slide of a manure
beds. It works very well for creating a fine seedbed. pile) you see that the material is being brought to a pile
The tool is based on S-tines, staying away from disks and then we mix it with horse bedding. Most of the
as much as I can. S-tines will not pulverize my soil as cow manure that we are getting is on the wet side so
much as the pan behind it will. It unfortunately kind we have to make it dry again with horse bedding. The
of smears over the ground and every time you smear particular person I am working with at Earth Works,
ground you are rubbing these aggregates apart. One Bob Walker, has all kinds of materials that he makes
thing you could do if you take the soil and rub it in into compost. He uses cranberry pulp and any other
between your hands you can see a discoloration there organic material he can get his hands on. He needs to
of the soil. That is how you can see where the particles figure out the correct carbon nitrogen ratio when he
are coming apart where the soil was one particular has those materials in front of him. He looks at what
color before, you rub it between your fingers, and hes got, determines what will make the correct C/N
suddenly you can see all these other colors on your ratio, and then he mixes them all.
hand. That is because the sand, the silt, and the clay
are becoming separated from the organic matter. This He uses a Sandburger turner (showing a slide of the
is what you do with tillage equipment. Sandburger turner) from Austria and its inverts the pile.
Whatever is on the outside goes to the inside, whatever
is on the inside goes to the outside. After it has gone
Biological fertility through the turner it has become a much more homog-
enous product than before. We add the biodynamic
preparations to our piles. The way you can look at a
A lot has been said about this already today. I will go compost pile is to think of having another animal on
into the practical applications of it. I will let you read the farm. It is not a true analogy or true metaphor but

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just an attitude type of thing. It is like an animal since Also, this table shows that growing vegetables is
it has all the qualities of an animal like body warmth, detrimental in maintaining organic mater levels. At
moisture, organs (by adding the biodynamic prepara- least two or three percent of the organic matter is be-
tions), and a skin (by covering it with the covers). I ing burned up all the time through cultivation. Not
obviously actually take this very literally, but I do not only the nitrogen but also the organic matter is being
ask you to do that. The Valerian preparation should mineralized. So, if you grow onions year after year
function as the skin. We find that it is not sufficient you could see that you are in a rapid declining state
enough especially in our climate where thundershow- here. Maintaining organic matter is done somewhat if
ers can bring down two inches in one hour. The skin you put a field for one year in clover. It is much bet-
we are providing is a cover made out of a polyester ter than doing nothing, but all you replace is about a
type product that sheds the rain (while still allowing thousand pounds of organic matter. How much is that
it to breathe). really? That thousand pounds of organic matter is ap-
proximately 1-2% of the total organic matter reserve
Rain can be a tremendous enemy of a compost pile. in your soil.
Once water saturates the pile it will stop the compost-
ing process. On the other hand, it also prevents it from (Showing a slide with a table showing increase of or-
drying out too much. You can imagine all that heat, ganic matter by sod and rapid decline following by crop
you can see here it is about 150 degrees, will dry the land) Most of these tables are based on the Bemesting
pile out quite a bit. We use the same turner either to en Meststoffen textbook. It is translated in the table in
cool it down or when it is too dry to insert water. We your handout. It shows total organic matter. I find this a
can spray water into the pile. Other places where the fascinating table because you can see how long it takes
analogy between a compost pile and an animal hold to build organic matter. Now look at that number 50.
up is the following. When you have a cow, you check That is tons per acre. A little different numbers than
on it every day, right? Well it is somewhat similar with what John showed us. I think John showed us a table
a compost pile. You kind of look at it, you follow it. that was based on 6 inches. This one is based on 12
You dont have to feed it that is the nice thing about inches of topsoil and in 12 inches of topsoil, there is I
it. But, you do have to give it water and you have to think 2000 tons of soil or was it 4000 tons. But anyway,
monitor what the condition is. If you are going to do 50 stand for about 2.5% organic matter if you want to
a good job, it will be free of pathogens, it will be free convert it. So, we start at 2.5% and we are going to go
of weed seeds, and ultimately if you do a good job, it up to approximately 3.2%. Over a period of 25 years,
will have disease suppressant qualities. this is if you have it in continuous sod. So, we are
talking about going from 2.5% to 3.2% by having it in
(Showing a slide of a table of organic residue per continuous sod. The formation of the prairies, you can
crop) A most important contribution of compost is in now imagine how long that took. It is a slow process.
raising organic matter effectively in comparison to So here, we are considering growing cover crops to
cover crops. In your handout, I added the information raise organic matter. That is a great consideration, but
of what ten tons of compost adds in organic matter, what we really need is 25 years of sod. And once we
which is not on this slide here. It is very interesting go back to cropland we are back to where we started
when it comes to numbers. When you apply ten tons in 10 years. So to maintain organic mater levels, and
of compost each year in comparison to what these dif- I do not know if I go out on a limb here, does that
ferent crops are doing, you can see the winners of all mean then, that out of every one year of cropland you
crops are three years of a grass clover mix. But all of have to balance this with 2.5 years of sod? Well that is
this organic matter is relatively fresh organic matter where I think the compost has its place. The compost
at plow down. Ten tons of compost results in about will effectively maintain the organic matter. I caution
six and one-half thousand pounds of organic matter you though that too much compost can have negative
per acre. This is a substantial number, especially taken effects as well, (like raising phosphorus to levels that
into consideration that after one year most of this is it will pollute the ground water).
still going to be there. Even after growing three years
of a grass clover mix; only a third of the organic mat- (Showing slides of a crop rotation) What I want to do
ter is left after one year of breakdown. Most of it gets next is to go into some crop rotations. My crop rota-
broken down. tions have many cover crops in them and you might

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ask why I bother. I just showed you that cover crops year with oats and sweet clover. The reason why I
dont increase organic mater levels. Well it is not so use oats as a nurse crop is because the sweet clover
much the objective of raising organic matter when germinates relatively slow and the oats is a good way
growing cover crops. The reason is more in support- to immediately help the soil, to anchor it so to speak.
ing structural fertility. I have not seen any evidence Later on after the oats is mowed down, the sweet
by spreading compost, that I am supporting the soil clover will fill out.
structure. I have not seen the relationship between
adding a lot of organic matter and increasing the soil The following year we spaded the sweet clover in to
structure per-s. Especially not if I raise vegetables in provide a wonderful nitrogen supply for my sweet
a very intense way accompanied by an intense regime corn. We over seed the sweet corn with red clover,
of tillage. I have grown two crops, sometimes three with the following year the red clover being followed
crops a year, which requires a lot of tillage. We used by a bare fallow. I incorporate the clover sometime in
tremendous amounts of compost because at that point the summer when the ammonia, there is a tremendous
Earthworks was still in its early stages, heavily sup- amount of ammonia becoming available out of the
ported by grants and the best place to put it was on red clover, is then easily being taken up by the soil
our fields. So, we were raising our organic matter in and being converted to nitrates. That freely available
six years from 2.5 to 3.7. It was great. But was there nitrate then has to be anchored again by the oats and
really an increase in structural fertility? Not as much peas that are followed by potatoes. It is a challenge to
as I hoped for. get enough of nitrogen to my potatoes, while getting
potassium is usually not a problem. It is available in
What I also saw was a weed cycle where we initially the compost or I can spread Sul-Po-Mag (an OMRI
encountered a lot of pigweed and lambsquarters, approved potassium fertilizer). But getting enough
chickweed, galinsoga, and purslane came in. Tomor- nitrogen is difficult for both growing potatoes or corn
row there will be a lot more about weeds, and weed and it needs clover incorporated in the rotation.
control, but let me say a few things about this in relation
to rotations and cover crops. When you leave the soil The potatoes are followed with an oats and peas crop.
exposed and you work it too hard by breaking down The potato crop serves almost as a bare fallow. There
its structural fertility, I believe, and this might be too are hardly any weeds in the potatoes, first because a
flowery for you guys, that the soil is self corrective by bare fallow preceded it, but also because the potato is
wanting to cover itself up again. So, it is looking for the very easy to cultivate since you keep hilling them. The
crop that will do this the quickest and most effective oats and peas are chosen as winter cover crop because
way. Well, chickweed and purslane are perfect in doing winter kills both, since we dont want to do a lot of
just that. The wisdom in the soil is looking for ways tillage, especially deep tillage, in the spring. When
to cover up the mistakes that we make. As a result the you do deep tillage you are going to bring more weed
crop rotation I will show you has incorporated grasses seeds up again, this is not a good idea, especially not
and legumes. Grasses and legumes are other crops that after a bare fallow.
are very effective in covering the soil. They are able to,
as was said before by Harold about nudity, put some So, here we follow the oats and peas with onions. The
clothes on that soil in a very effective way. onions come out of the ground sometime around the
middle of August and are followed in September by rye
The other component about the following crop rotation and hairy vetch. The rye and hairy vetch are mowed
is that it allows doing some very aggressive weed con- down a few times and then incorporated to be followed
trol by introducing the bare fallow, which is possibly by fall broccoli, or we (mow it once and) harvest the rye
detrimental for some of the microorganisms and soil for straw. After the fall broccoli there is no cover crop.
structure. The crop rotation serves the two purposes; There is nothing to protect the ground over the winter
increase structural fertility and providing control for and the ground is open. The good thing is that there is
diseases and weeds. very little plant debris and we can follow with a fine
seeded crop like early greens or spinach or lettuces.
I just want to walk through some of these rotations It can be anything as long as it is not a Brassica itself.
with you. Here is one where we start the very first Any rotation keeps families following each other with

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the exception of the legumes and grains. the idea? The more air, the more pores you have the
quicker the water will actually infiltrate. We heard
Now lets move ahead for a moment. We are going to some remarkable numbers from Mary-Howell and
show a few pictures. Klaas Martens about their land. He was very much
surprised. What I wonder about is that he was dealing
Q: When do you apply compost? with vegetable growers. Those people probably went
out and cut their cover crops when they ran out of
A: Every time before a cash crop, ten tons of compost work everywhere else. Well, when do you think that
is applied in the spring. Right now we apply ten tons. happens? After it has rained a couple of inches. The
I think that at a certain point, you should be able to priority was to get your cash crops in. When they ran
bring that number down, but I agree with Brian that in out of all that work, they mowed down their cover
the earlier years you really need to apply at least ten crops and compacted their soil. So, it wasnt a surprise
tons per acre. It is a lot of money, so you have to ask at all, that the land that had been in cover crops for
yourself if you can afford that. Another option would three years was extremely compacted. You have to
be to spread smaller amounts of compost, and supple- look at your soil improvement crops as you treat your
ment what you cant get out of the compost from other vegetable crops. Be careful using heavy tractors when
sources, either through side dressing or any other way. mowing them down. You are driving a lot on there. We
are mowing up to three times a year, which greatly
Q: How do you incorporate your cover crops? helps in controlling weed populations, but you have
to be careful. Those are heavy tractors, 7,000 pounds
A: We use a spading plow followed after flail mowing. or more. I dont know how many pounds per square
The spading plow is the primary choice for incorpora- inch are underneath the tractor tires, but it does add up.
tion of large amounts of organic matter.
(Showing a slide of red clover) This is actually not
(Showing a slide of mature oats) Here the oats were sweet clover it is red clover well come to it later
not cut down and I will never do it again, Ill show in another rotation. This slide is taken around mid-
you why. This was a very dry year and the oats very summer. You see we are treating the field in one
much competed with the sweet clover it was a very piece. Now we are dividing the field in sections. The
poor stand so we are not taking that risk anymore. This whole farm is divided up into sections with a varying
was also kind of a dry soil to begin with, but you can length but eight beds wide. Each section is divided
see what a poor stand of sweet clover we have there and separated by a harvest lane. The eight beds in
(showing a slide of very small plants of sweet clover these sections, come close to being permanent. The
under a crop of oats). It was right before we combined tire tracks will fall in the same place, year after year,
it. At that point, I was greedy, I wanted to get the oats, after year. The grass and clover strips in between are
and I wanted to get the grain. Right now, not having also permanent. It also allows for very good record
our cows anymore, there is no need for that. So, we keeping as far as rotation is concerned. The 70 acres
mow the oats probably twice and then we mow it a that we operate, 30 acres at one time are in cash crops
third time (the clover). and the other 40 acres are in soil improvement crops.
The way that we keep track of it is section by section.
This brings up another important thing; mowing your Here you can see that where one section is prepared
cover crops. Ted Blomgren did an interesting study us- for seeding. We spaded in the clover and then seeded
ing an infiltrometer. I dont know what it looks like but down with oats and peas. That will be the following
I understand the concept. It measures how much water year in potatoes.
the soil is able to take in. There were three plots one
plot with three years of cover crops, one with one year Here is the last cultivation of the sweet corn (showing
of cover crops and one year that was in vegetables. a slide of young corn plants). After the last cultivation
Guess which had the highest infiltration it was the of the sweet corn, the red clover is over seeded. We
vegetable land. That wasnt what I expected. Werent do not wait a day, we have someone cultivating and
cover crops supposed to create those nice pores and hilling up the corn with another person walking behind
structural fertility and everything else because that is with a cyclone seeder. It is one of those things you get

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at Johnnys Selected Seeds. It looks somewhat silly to cut it). Has anyone tried to cut rye and hairy vetch
but it goes pretty fast. We are seeding our clover down with a haybine before? I destroyed a haybine with it.
at a rate of approximately 20 pounds to the acre. This It was an old haybine, I admit. But hairy vetch just
is red clover. I tried sweet clover. It doesnt handle clogs up the mower, which can be really awful. If you
the shade very well and it doesnt handle the traffic want to make your own rye straw, a sickle bar mower
very well either. (Showing a close up shot of sweet would be the best thing to use. We use a lot of rye
corn) You can see these are not weeds. The ground is straw as mulch.
clean at this point and you can see that the clover has
germinated. You can see this is after harvest (showing This is garlic (showing a picture of a mulched field).
corn stalks with a green cover on the ground). The We used a lot of mulch in between the black plastic.
corn has been harvested. The clover has established I will really shoot through these ones (slides) very
itself successfully. We then mow the corn down fast because they are outdated. The reason why they
(showing the sweet corn mowed down) you can see are outdated is that our workers refused to work with
the stubbles there. It pretty much fills out. The rest of straw. The allergies that people develop these days are
the rotation follows. inhibiting us from using large amounts of rye straw,
so we still use it in our strawberries and garlic, but I
Pretty much this rotation is based on a system that was had to find another solution for what to use in between
described earlier. Oats and barley over seeded with the black plastic.
legumes is a very common practice at biodynamic or
organic farms in Europe. I wondered how we could do The solution that we came up with is living mulch.
this with vegetables. The last example I show you is This is annual rye grass in between tomatoes (showing
one where we seed red clover at the beginning of the a slide of staked tomatoes with a living mulch). The
rotation by the way if it is a seven-year rotation At three acres that we have in drip and black plastic is
the end it will start the following year back at year one seeded down with Dutch white clover. This is one of
again. When you start red clover, you do not need a those examples of a successful combination of a cash
nurse crop like with sweet clover. and cover crop in the same year. To establish the liv-
ing mulch, you want to make sure you lay all of your
(Showing a slide of a tractor pulling a grain drill in a plastic as early as you can to seed your Dutch white
large field) Just as a note: we operate those 70 acres of clover. Dont wait as you may usually do and lay your
land with 30 acres of in cash crops by myself, my part- plastic as you need it because if you wait until May and
ner Jody Bolluyt, four apprentices and two seasonal you seed your Dutch white clover the weeds will get
workers. That is close to 10 acres per person and we ahead of you. I had a very interesting situation and if I
really dont work hard. We like to work 40-45 hours had a couple more hours to talk I would talk about that
a week. It is a matter of approach. A lot has to do with more, but when we got the new farm we ended up with
the fact that we put systems in place. The down side three different pieces of land. One was in rotation of
is that it takes a lot of land. But we have been able to potatoes and corn, the other one was continuous corn
cut down on the number of hours per cash crop per and the other one had been in a corn/alfalfa rotation,
acre. We spend most of our time harvesting, which with four years alfalfa, and four years in corn. The
is key. We spend very little time on insect or pest or one that was in corn and potatoes was heavily infested
weed control. Weed control is something that takes with purslane. I really did not know what to do with it.
five to ten hours a week for one person, besides the I seeded some Dutch white clover to see what would
finely seeded crops that are being weeded by hand. happen and to my great surprise it suppressed the
Otherwise, we never touch potatoes, corn, cabbage, purslane. When we laid black plastic in that field the
etc. by hand. It has to be a weedy piece of ground for Dutch white clover suppressed the purslane the whole
us to hoe cabbage. season. It provided a beautiful cover. A note of cau-
tion is to make sure you use Dutch white clover. We
Another word on rye (showing a picture of rye and once seeded from a bag that said white clover on it. It
vetch in bloom). We grow quite a bit of rye and hairy was not white but red clover (which is an aggressive
vetch. If we want to harvest the rye, we do not mix grower), it actually grows right over the plastic, and
in the hairy vetch. It really becomes a mess (trying it starts invading your cash crop. Not a good idea. It

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has to be Dutch white clover, not because it is Dutch, for another five, six, or maybe even seven years so
just because it is small. disease is not a problem. The problem with the winter
squash is when we work in our weed seeds to establish
Over seeding of red clover in winter squash (showing a cover crop. These weed seeds that are buried can be
a slide of winter squash getting hoed) should be done a problem in future years. With over seeding the weed
at the last cultivation. Some people asked me earlier seeds, like lambsquarters or anything else that goes to
if you dont have to rake the clover in. Again, I dont seed, dies down, and well mow it. The weed seeds lie
think I have stressed enough you dont have to as long on top. The birds will get it, smaller insects will get
as one person is following the cultivating tractor. The it, or it germinates the following year underneath the
seeding happens within moments after the last culti- clover. It actually gives many advantages and does not
vation. The ground is nice and soft and it falls right create a lot of problems.
in between those cracks. It germinates quite well. But
if you wait, especially if you wait after a rainstorm to There are some problems though with having too many
seed your white clover, it is not going to work very cover crops. There are some problems associated with
well. You are going to have to roll it in, rake it in, or cover crops as well. We have all this raw organic mat-
do something. The incorporation of the clover seed ter, which provides this incredibly nice environment
happens by the ground being recently worked. This is for some of the insects that we dont like to see. We
actually a members workday here. We have members have problems with thrips because they come flying
come up once a month helping us with hoeing and out of our grains after we cut them down and infest
harvesting. We have 700 shareholders that support our onions. We really need to think about that. It might
our farm. mean that we should always leave some grain standing
up for them to go to instead of flying into the onions.
Here you can see after the harvest (showing a slide of
clover). You can see it is completely filled out. This Q: Are the cover crops hosts for leafhoppers?
is actually another slide right after harvest. Here you
can see there are some patches that where underneath A: I find it mostly with alfalfa. I have not seen it with
the plants that surprisingly well filled out. That was the clover. If clover is the host of that as well, we
the last slide. havent seen it, yet.

Q: Do you mow the clover?

A: The living mulch we do not mow, but if you have
red clover, you do have to mow it. Again, we had red
Q: When you over seed the clover to the previous clover because of a mistake we made and we mowed it
crop do you find any disease problems with keeping three or four times. We did not have a problem with tar-
that crop on the ground through the fall/next year? nished plant bug; we had a problem with leafhoppers.
Again, I am assuming that they came out of the cover
A: In the case of winter squash there were a couple of crops and came flying right in. I would say our big-
reasons why I over seeded. Since we dont like hand gest problems with insects right now are flea beetles,
hoeing or hand weeding, winter squash is one of those cucumber beetles, thrips and leafhoppers. Colorado
crops where we always saw a few weeds going to seed. potato bugs are almost nonexistent. Why? I have no
We have members hoeing there, and that is great be- idea. I assume that some crops are serving as a host of
cause they can get those weeds that the cultivator did their predator either over the winter or at other times.
not get. Normally speaking we would not have time for
it and a few weeds would go to seed. The advantage of Q: (Most of the question was inaudible) Something
over seeding instead of disking in your winter squash about nitrogen in compost, when do you cut back,
crop residue, which some people said they do to pre- will cover crops be enough? What are you thinking
vent diseases in future years is the following. First, in about in the long term?
this crop rotation the cucurbits do not come back there

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A: Long term is to involve animals and then a lot you to import less compost. Maybe that is something
of the fertility (from the soil improvement crops) that you want to aim for at one point, which is to im-
will be exported from the fields in the form of feed. port less compost. Lawrence B. Hill said, Plowing
It means instead of cutting them down and plowing under a cover crop is like a crocodile in a fish pond
them in, you bring them to the barn and feed them to it is a lot of activity and then it is very quiet again.
the animals over the winter. Bringing the composted Soil life becomes very active and John said it earlier
manure back will mean we will import less compost it is almost like applying liquid fertilizer. So, cover
from the outside. In other words, it will be a cycle crops have their place for root formation, but maybe
within the farm. within the farm system as a whole system, there is
more wisdom in feeding it to animals. Removing a
Q: Will you cut back on the compost? lot of the above ground plant matter, feeding it to the
cows, building a compost pile and then bringing that
A: I think compost is very important. I dont think a back in the form of compost seems to be a lot more
system within vegetables would ever work on cover sensible, while there is still a lot of that structural
crops alone. I think you eventually will lose important fertility being built by the plant roots. That would be
nutrients that are needed. I think the animals play an the long-term picture.
important role within the farm, and they will allow

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Fertility Management at Roxbury Farm

Jean-Paul Courtens
Roxbury Farm
Kinderhook, New York

To evaluate the fertility level of our soils, there are four The annual potash requirement for the hayfields aver-
different characteristics to distinguish. ages around 80-110 lbs./acre. Roots and microorgan-
ism can extract some potash out of the rock content
of the soil or draw some it from the subsoil, provided
1. Chemical fertility the soil has no hardpan. An annual gift of 14 tons of
cow manure provides 110 lbs. in potash.

a. Hayfields The annual need for phosphate is around 25 lbs./acre.

Three tons of manure would cover that need (based on
Hayfields are generally self sufficient in nitrogen pro- average manure samples). Most manure contains rela-
vided there are plenty of legumes part of the hay mix. tive high amounts of phosphate caused by the grains
You might see your neighbors using generous amounts fed to the animals.
of nitrogen fertilizers on their hayfields, and in Hol-
land, they practice this as an indirect weed-killer. The b. Vegetables
only plants that do well with an oversupply of nitrogen
are the grasses. Grasses have a great ability to choke All vegetables have different nutritional requirements.
other plants given they are supplied with lots of water A rule of thumb is that:
and nitrogen. High nitrogen levels also reduce the
uptake of nitrogen by rhizomes that live in symbiosis Most vegetables have relatively low needs for
with the legumes. phosphorus.

The best improvement in a hayfield is it to make it part Leafy greens have higher than average needs for
of a rotational grazing system, in which cows are al- potassium.
lowed for very short periods (1 to 3 days) to graze. In
alternate years, the field is hayed with still allows for a Most recent developed vegetable varieties do well
fall grazing period. The most productive hayfields are with high levels of nitrogen.
usually the ones with the greatest number of species,
considering the time an alfalfa field is out of production Most vegetables need a pH between six and seven.
for reseeding purposes.
Compost or manure releases only about 40% of its

Soil and Nutrient Management 45

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Table 1
Average Nutrient Absorption For Vegetables

Nutrients in lbs./acre
Vegetable Nitrogen Phosphate Potash
Asparagus 11 3 6
Beans green 120 10 55
plants 50 6 45
Beets 140 14 140
Broccoli at 10,000 lbs. heads/acre 20 2 48
plants 145 8 160
Brussels Sprouts 140 20 125
plants 96 9 110
Carrots at 30,000 lbs. roots/acre 80 20 200
leaves 65 5 145
Cantaloupe at 22,500 lbs./acre 95 19 120
Vines 63 8 35
Celery at 100,000 lbs./acre 170 35 387
Roots 25 15 55
Lettuce at 35,000 lbs./acre 95 12 170
Pepper at 22,500 lbs./acre 45 6 50
Plants 95 6 90
Spinach at 20,000 lbs./acre 100 12 100
Sweet corn at 13,000 lbs./acre 55 8 30
Plants 100 12 75
Potato at 40,000 lbs./acre 150 19 200
Vines 60 11 75
Tomato at 60,000 lbs./acre 100 10 180
Vines 80 11 100

Adapted from Knotts Handbook for vegetable growers

Average uptake from vegetables is:

81 lbs./acre nitrogen (available in 8 tons of compost)
31 lbs./acre phosphate (available in 4 tons of compost)
122 lbs./acre potash (available in 10 tons of compost)

nitrogen the first year with the remainder released in The nitrogen in manure consists for about half of am-
the following two to three years. When we spread the monia and with the other half in nitrate, and in good
manure in the fall, losses of soluble nitrogen are high compost, all ammonia is converted in nitrate.
and we can only utilize 20% in the following year.
A soil test will give some indication of where the state
Nitrogen from cover crops, when plowed under, is of your soil is. But besides giving accurate numbers for
released over a very short amount of time and care its pH and OM, It rarely allows for a good prediction
should be taken to avoid losses. Most of the nitrogen of what the yields will be in an organic system. I have
from cover crops consists of ammonia (highly volatile). seen many instances where good soil health (good

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Table 2
Different Compositions of Several Organic Fertilizers

All quantities in lbs./ton, except the first column

Type of Per animal in Dry Org.

fertilizer lbs./180 days Matter Matter N P K Ca
Roxbury Farm Compost 924 327 12.5 8.25 12.6 20.3
Solid 13,000 430 280 11 7.6 8 8
Urine 9,000 52 20 8 .4 16 .2
Slurry 22,000 190 120 9 4 10 4
Solid 770 460 320 15 18 7 1.8
Urine 990 40 10 13 1.8 9 1.2
Slurry 1,760 160 126 14 9 8 1.5
Solid 44 640 460 25 37 18 47
Slurry 88 220 160 16 13 10 22
With bedding, 1,160 700 32 40 22 57
(Free range)
Horse 620 500 10 6 11 6

Adapted from: Bemesting en Meststoffen by W.T. Rinsema PhD

structure, good biological diversity, and good physical What crop is growing on it is a direct result of the soil
qualities override its chemical contents. type we are working with. The presence of large rocks,
steep slopes, or poor drainage makes some of this land
The reality is that hay would do very well with unsuitable for vegetable crop production.
an annual gift of 2 to 3 tons of cow manure to the
acre, while vegetables need more than what the Good vegetable land has:
numbers from a chemical analysis suggest in order
to produce a competitive yield. Vegetables do not A high carrying capacity (carry the weight of
support structural and biological fertility and their equipment without creating irreversible compac-
roots rarely extract minerals from the rock content tion)
of the soil.
Good drainage

2. Physical fertility Good access to irrigation water

A deep A horizon (topsoil) that is free from stones

There are about 250 acres under Roxburys manage-
ment. Is almost flat with slopes that do not exceed 2%.

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Is located in a long season micro climate 3. Structural fertility

Good exposure to sunlight
The way soil-particles are connected and organized in
Good air drainage to avoid late frosts. relation to each other reflects on its structural fertility.
We evaluate how the soil particles are spaced and how
Good access to farm roads many and how large the spaces are in between them. By
the use of tillage tools and the compaction of tractors,
At Roxbury Farm the 100 Acres that are suitable for the soil aggregates are broken. When the soil is worked
vegetable crop production, only 30 are planted in cash too hard, it will not stand up to a heavy rainstorm and
crops each consecutive year. 40 acres are planted in will collapse and erode. Soils with stable aggregates
soil improvement crops with the remaining 30 rented are more stable. Some soils do not have the physical
out to a neighbor for hay. Almost all of the vegetable characteristics to create stable aggregates. In that case,
land is rated category I or II (Occum, Unadilla, Knick- the only remedy is adding organic matter.
erbocker, and Hoosick). The remainder of the land is
rated lower and divided between hayfields, pastures, A stable structure will have:
woods, or wetlands. They are still important in provid-
ing a broad biodiversity to the whole farm. An equal distribution between mineral particles
and pores.
When we assess the physical quality of our soils, we
determine its physical strength and limitations. Work- Good ability for roots to penetrate.
ing with land is not unlike working with a horse. First,
we need to know what horse we are dealing with. Is it a Good ability to hold water.
workhorse or a riding horse? Each has different quali-
ties. We will not try to pull a heavy load with a riding Good ability to drain excessive water.
horse. Within this analogy, a sandy soil has qualities of
a riding horse. Although it has its usefulness, we cannot Hay fields and pastures are in general self sufficient
get a lot of work out of it. It might pull a plow but it in creating good soil structure. Their root system
lacks the persistence of a workhorse to complete the supports many microorganisms that feed directly on
task. Sandy soils, are great in the early spring since we plant matter or live off the conditions created by the
have early access, since they drain well and warm up. roots during growth as well as decay. In general, most
But in the summer, they easily dry out, and can only grasses create a surplus of carbonaceous materials,
achieve good yields with solid set drip irrigation. A and the organic matter content of the soil increases.
workhorse on the other hand keeps moving, albeit at an This will help connect the soil particles into stable
initially slower pace, but with much greater resilience. aggregates. Microorganisms feed on the decaying
A heavier soil, like a silt loam resembles a workhorse. organic matter and together with the extensive root
They are a little later to warm up in the spring but their system of the grasses help the way in which the soil
ability to hold nutrients and water gives them a great particles are ordered. They leave many pores, which
advantage over the summer months. will provide drainage and capillary action in times of
drought. Vegetable crop production, by its nature of
Nutrition is another analogy between horses and soils. exposing the soil and introducing equipment, do not
Despite Too much compost to alter its physical charac- maintain soil structure. Besides this, most vegetable
teristics, which results in excessive amounts of soluble crops do not have very well developed root systems
minerals, creates high disease and weed pressure. unlike most grasses.

Starting off with a good soil is the best investment Strategies to support good structure are:
a vegetable grower can make. Altering the state of
its soil is hardly ever cost effective. Supply high amounts of organic matter that contain
humus formative particles.

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Add Calcium as building block for clay soils. that require extremely level ground with no clumps or
stones on the surface a Buckeye bed former is used.
Avoid breaking up the soil beyond natural breaking This tool leaves a trench every 72 inches, creating a
points soil surface that resembles raised beds. The planting
surface of the bed is 54 inches wide and allows for
Increased root activity by using soil improvement three rows 18 inches apart. The trenches have proven
crops. to be very successful in allowing the crops to stay
dry much longer during periods of heavy rain. The
Increased root activity by using Biodynamic prepa- combination of better drainage and the level plant
ration 500. bed prevents bottom rot and creates conditions for
successful mechanical weed control.
Frost as an action to fracture compacted soil.

To help determine how we treat the soil during the 4. Biological fertility
season tillage tool should not fracture the soil more
than when we drop a clump of soil from a height of
three feet. Ideal is to use tillage equipment that has Here we recognize three areas of importance:
an action similar to that of a hand-fork. A hand fork
fractures the soil at its own breaking points. A spade The cycles in nature, that includes decay and de-
and damages the aggregates where it slices the soil. composition of organic matter.
The coloration at the back of the spade is an indication
of smeared soil particles. The aggregates that order the The creation and maintenance of soils.
soil have come apart.
The nutritional value of cultivated plants.
Three different purposes of tillage:
At Roxbury Farm this is addressed with the following
Aeration of the soil. (Depth anywhere between 8 measures.
and 18 inches)
A. Applying compost and incorporating soil
Incorporation of organic material. (How deep do improvement crops increases soil fertility
you want to put your organic material?)
Fresh organic matter, is important to add to the soil
Creating a seed or plant-bed. (How smooth and because:
level does this have to be?)
It feeds the microorganism.
Conventional equipment rarely combines all three
tasks. Only a spading plow with secondary attachment It keeps the nutrients in a cycle.
will accomplish this and it will aerate at the same depth
as it puts the organic materials. It creates a better structure of the soil by acting
like glue to the soil particles (Fungi).
For primary tillage, a Chisel plow is used to aerate
the soil. In order to incorporate cover crops with this Ultimately a good soil transforms this organic matter
tool the use of a shredder or flail-mower is necessary. into
The chisel plow does not turn the soil and leaves a
lot of plant matter on the surface. After the primary Humus
tillage, a Perfecta II Cultivator is used to smooth out
the field. This tool consists of a combination of sev- Humus, the most stable form of organic matter that:
eral S tines, a leveling bar, and a set of crumbling
rollers. It leaves the soil level and smooth enough to Has the ability to absorb both nutrients and wa-
plant: cover crops, Cole crops, potatoes, squash, and ter. Humus compared to clay can hold up to four
even lettuce-plugs. For crops that have small seeds and times as much water, and the nutrients in humus

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are available to plants but cannot be washed out composting takes about 6 to 12 weeks. The compost,
by excessive rainfall. when applied is not finished, but will have lost most
of its odor. The ideal time of application is on a cloudy
It increases the structure of the soil. day with plenty of rain in the forecast. After applica-
tion, the ground is chiseled or spaded. Manure handling
Compost can be the weakest link in the farms fertility cycle.
At a biodynamic farm, it is important to keep nutrient
Roxbury Farm works closely with the company Earth- losses as low as possible.
works. This company was formed with the help of the
state of New York to research the possibility of keeping Fibers play an important role in the composting pro-
organic materials out of the landfill. Earthworks col- cess. Most fibers are used up at the end of the com-
lects produce from supermarkets, horse bedding from posting process. Hay and straw are good examples of
farms, and pulp from canneries. These materials are being good energy providers for the microorganism.
mixed with a Sandburger compost turner and carefully Their presence is vital in the process, but it is impor-
monitored for temperature and moisture. This machine tant to include materials that contain lignin. They take
is also utilized to make compost from cow manure to a longer time to break down, and this kind of carbon
be used at Roxbury Farm. compound is not readily available as an energy source
for the microorganism. But at the end of the compost-
The process of making compost at a biodynamic ing process, they contribute to the formation of humus
farm at a much higher rate than fibers do. All carbonaceous
materials have a different ability to become humus.
During the winter, the cows are usually kept in a free The materials with high lignin fractions, like peat
stall setup. In this method, the hay is fed in the form moss, sawdust, and leaves have what we call a high
of round bales inside the stall and placed on top of the humification coefficient. They alone cannot provide
packed manure. The cows are kept off the manure by the microorganism with enough energy to start the
applying bedding on a regular basis. This can consist decomposition and hay, straw, or green material has
of old hay, straw, and or wood chips. If an adequate to be added to the pile to jump-start the process. The
source is available, rock dust, like Basalt meal can manure contributes nitrogen and other building blocks
be added to the manure pack. After six months, the that are used by the microorganism to grow and mul-
packed materials are about three feet deep. In May, tiply. By adding soil or rock dust to the manure, we
the manure is removed with a bucket loader. The pile create conditions that can occur only under ideal cir-
is build with a manure spreader, with its final shape cumstances in very good soil. The humus can transform
created by the turner. The biodynamic preparations are into a clay-humus complex. This aggregate represents
inserted into the pile by pushing a long stick two feet the most stable soil component, which has a very high
into the pile. Only small amounts are needed in each capacity to hold nutrients and water.
hole to prepare a pile.
The eventual goal in applying good compost to the land
A variety of materials in a manure-pile allows it to be is to increase the overall health of the soil. Compost is
mostly self-sufficient in the process of transformation. also very effective in raising the Organic Matter level
A pile that has a variety of materials in it develops a of our soils
combination of aerobic and semi-anaerobic bacteria.
The piles heat up 120 to 160 Fahrenheit and stay at B. Soil improvement and cover crops
that point for quite a few weeks. A specially designed
cover is placed over the piles to shed of any excessive The benefits of cover crops and soil improvement
rain and to keep the moisture in. The cover functions crops
like a skin. It protects the pile from the elements with-
out restricting it from breathing. A pile behaves like Reduction of soil erosion. A crop of rye seeded in Sep-
any other organism on the farm: it breathes, consists tember and plowed under in April is able to keep the
mostly of water, and has body warmth, except it will soil from eroding away over the winter months. Rye
not break any fences. The piles are turned when nec- and hairy vetch as a mix are very effective. And will
essary, and water can be added. The whole process of add to soil-life, though the humification coefficient can

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be very low, soil life is greatly benefited by the mere if the particular rhizome is in your soil. Many legumes
fact that the ground is not left exposed. The roots of the live in symbiosis with different rhizomes.
cover crops after breakdown form the very important
capillaries for drainage as well as water uptake. Disadvantages of cover crops

Increase of pores in soils and breaking up hard pans. Sod can provide a cover for the eggs of many in-
Sweet clover is known for its deep penetration of the sects. Flea beetle and carrot-fly take advantage of
soil and breaking of hard pans. But any established this environment. Grains and Alfalfa hosts thrips and
grass will greatly increase the amount of pores in the leafhoppers. Once the grain is combined or the alfalfa
soil. cut, the many insects including thrips and leafhoppers
look for a new home. As we increased our acreage in
Increase in microbial activity. Soil particles are held grains and legumes so have our problems with thrips
together by microbial activity especially the group of and leafhoppers increased. One solution is to have
fungi. Without activity of roots providing microorgan- another crop available (besides the vegetables) for the
ism the needed air, and carbon for their activity very insects to migrate to and to never mow all the cover
little microbial action would exist. crops at once.

Increase in organic matter content through carbon Another detriment from too much raw organic mate-
intake. Grasses are known for their excellent ability to rial is the residual activity in the soil that can manifest
fix carbon out of the air. For greatest uptake of carbon itself like fresh manure. Many diseases and pests like
in one season, Japanese millet and sorghum-Sudan aphids increase when too much raw fertility is applied.
are favorites. Lawrence D. Hills of the Henry Doubleday Soil As-
sociation, once said: Plowing under cover crops is not
Fixation of Nitrogen through rhizomes living in sym- unlike throwing a few fish in a pond filled with croco-
biosis with legumes. diles. Crocodiles are a beautiful metaphor of soil life.

Weed management. Many crops are able to choke out What we seed in different months in New York
other weeds, and by frequently mowing of our cover
crops, we reduce the number of weeds going to seed. April and May

Plant disease management. Most cover crops do not Oats with red or sweet Clover
host plant diseases known in cash crops
Rye with Dutch white clover on head lands (the
Overall farm diversity. Most insects feed off the Rye will not form a seed head)
pollen of the grains and grasses. In some instances,
the cash crop acts as a beneficial host. The pollen of Dutch white clover in between plastic
the sweet corn is a good example. For that reason,
parsnips can be left in the ground to flower in the May and June
spring. The flowers that are formed in the following
spring provide a habitat for the trichogramma wasp. Buckwheat after spinach or other early crop
Dill, which is another Umbelliferea, serves the same
function. After the dill is cut, the plants remain alive Sweet clover, red clover over seeded in the sweet
and produce flowers at a time when the parsnips have corn and Winter squash.
gone to seed.
The roots of the legumes live in symbiosis with mi-
croorganism called rhizomes. Look at the roots of the Japanese Millet or Sorghum-Sudan with Hairy
legume to find out if nitrogen is in the process of being Vetch mixed in.
fixed: if the roots have nodules that are red or pink
colored inside, it has active rhizomes. If the roots do
not show nodules, find out if the soil pH is too low or

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Table 3
Amounts of Organic Matter of Different Crops Remaining after Harvest in Same Year and Following

All numbers in lbs./acre All numbers in lbs./acre

Remains Remains
after after
Under Above one Under Above one
Crop ground ground Total year Crop ground ground Total year

Rye 1100 3300 4400 1350 Grass-clover

Oats 1250 3300 4550 1400 1 year 2250 1350 3600 1050
Potatoes 450 3150 3600 750 2 years 6000 1350 7350 2300
Beets 450 300 750 250 3 years 9500 1350 10850 3600

Cabbage 900 3600 4500 1000 Alfalfa

Peas 350 1400 1750 400 1 year 1800 900 2700 700
Beans 350 1400 1750 400 2 years 2700 1350 4050 1200
Onions 270 180 450 130 3 years 4500 1350 5850 1850

Adapted from: Bemesting en meststoffen, by W.T. 10 tons of compost 6540 6000

Rinsema PhD

organic matter in tons/acre

Cropland Sod Cropland




Total Organic Matter



5 10 15 20 25 5 10
Time in Years

Figure 1

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August Brassicaceae: all the Cole crops including broccoli,

arugula, turnips, etc.
Oats and Peas
Chenopodiaceae: all beets, chard, and spinach.
Convolvulaceae: sweet potatoes
Rye with Hairy Vetch, Oats and peas.
Cucurbiticeae: all cucumbers, melons, squashes
October and November etc.

Rye Fabaceae or legumes: peas and beans.

C. Crop rotation Liliaceae or Alliums: all the members of the onion

Within the vegetable land have a system of permanent
sections, that each contain eight beds. Permanent sec- Poaceae: all grains including sweet corn.
tions allow for keeping records of where the crops
have grown and aid in exact planning. There is no Rosaceae: strawberries
guesswork in finding where last years crop was planted.
The harvest lanes also serve as a means to get easily Solanaceae: all nightshades, including eggplant,
to the cash crops, a place to pull in the irrigation reel, peppers, tomatoes, etc.
and as pasture for the bees (since they mostly contain
white clover). A few vegetables, herbs, or cut flowers are adopted in
another family because they are relatively insignificant.
Crop rotation is a tool used to break insect, weed, A rule of thumb in any crop rotation is that no family
and disease pressure in the vegetable fields. There follows itself in less than four years. Another guideline
are many reports of increased yields of cash crops to use is to have plants with opposite nutrient require-
in fields that adopt rotations. In organic agriculture, ments followed each other. And lastly crops that see
we should not only rotate within the plant families of this pressure more in the spring or fall alternate crops
our cash crops but also include grasses and legumes that show great weed pressure in the summer. This is
in our rotation mix. As seen in the graph above, they done to offset the cycle in which those plants go to
fix decent amounts of organic matter and introduce a seed.
broad spectrum of soil life to the farm. They can also
form a habitat for beneficial insects. They are a neutral Use table 4 (page 54) as an example.
crop in our rotation since they rarely host diseases that
affect our cash crops. Proper incorporation and time D. Mulches
to let the soil digest the plant matter is important. Too
much raw organic matter can greatly affect the health Introduction of living mulches have become an im-
of our cash crops in a negative way. Introduction of portant tool at Roxbury Farm to help create a good
bare fallow periods in neutral years are effective in environment for our cash crops. The use of Dutch
breaking up both weed cycles and incorporation of white clover in between the plastic has reduced Al-
large amounts of plant matter. ternaria infections in tomatoes and keeps fruit clean
in peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, and squash.
At Roxbury the different plant families are: Over seeding of red clover in sweet corn and winter
squash allowed for nitrogen fixing for next years
Apiaceae or Umbelliferae: carrots, parsnips, pars- crop. We used to apply a lot of dead mulch like straw
ley, celery, dill, etc. and leaves, but the dust and discomfort to our workers
have limited the use of this to Strawberries and Garlic.
Asteraceae or Compositae: all the lettuces, esca- As an alternative to straw, the beds with garlic can be
role, and certain cut flowers. covered with about six inches of leaves. Six inches is

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Table 4
Crop rotation

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7

Greens Carrots Winter- Red Clover Potatoes Rye and Peas and
Squash Hairy Vetch Beans
Bare Fallow Bare fallow
Red clover Rye and Bare Fallow Oats and
Oats and Oats and Hairy Vetch Peas
Peas Peas Oats

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7

Red Clover Red Clover Early Rye and Strawberries Strawberries Spinach
Broccoli / Hairy Vetch
Bare Fallow Cabbage Bare fallow Lettuce
Bare Fallow
Oats and Rye and Oats and
Peas Hairy Vetch Oats and Peas

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7

Oats with Sweet clover Red Clover Potatoes Onions Rye and Greens
Sweet Hairy Vetch
Clover Sweet-corn Bare Fallow Rye and Lettuce
Oats and hairy Vetch Fall Broccoli
Red Clover Oats and Peas

a sufficient amount if you do not like to weed at all classified over 50,000 microorganisms in particular
the following year. The garlic pops right through in crops. After she tests a soil sample, she prescribes
the spring so this system works quite well if perennial particular teas to inoculate the soil with the missing
weeds are not a problem. microorganism to provide for proper plant growth.

E. Biodynamic preparations and compost Within the management practices of the biodynamic
teas preparations, we can distinguish between two different
kinds of applications.
The use of Biodynamic preparation in the compost
increases its ability to suppress plant diseases and 1. The compost preparations
introduce microorganisms needed for proper plant
growth. Preparation 500 has shown to increase rooting The central thought behind the compost preparations
depth of both cash and cover crops. is to give the compost a memory. When you make
compost, the original material will transform into
Research done by Elaine Ingham of the Soil Web has something completely new. Even chemical analysis
determined what microorganism help plants grow. She cannot determine what the original material consisted

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of provided the original materials were of organic ori- The nettle preparation is the easiest to make and can
gin and the process of composting was done correctly. be used as a foliar spray. The nettle is harvested before
The word organic does include all compounds that are the flowers go to seed. It is then directly placed in the
of organic origin, including chemicals. earth, but not in direct contact with it. We place a layer
of peat moss between the nettle and the moist earth.
There are six different compost preparations: It is left there for a full season (summer and winter),
and is then dug up and used as a preparation in the
The oak bark preparation is made of finely ground- compost pile. Nettle does not need an animal organ.
up oak bark that is put inside the skull of a freshly The nettle preparation has a strong relationship to the
slaughtered cow. Great care is taken when the brains iron processes in the plant.
are removed to make place for the oak bark. Some
people use a garden hose to flush out the brains but The dandelion preparation is made from the dried
most likely, even though it appears to be gentle, it has dandelion flowers. The flowers are picked in the morn-
the effect of flushing the essential membrane out as ing. Only the flowers that have not yet fully opened are
well. The membrane should be left intact, since the useful. When they are dried, mature flowers become
working of this membrane has the desired influence seed. When we make this preparation in the fall, we
on the transformation of the oak bark. The skull is then start by soaking the flowers in lukewarm dandelion
placed in water that is preferably mucky and moving. tea. The next step is to place this substance in little
This preparation will, if made properly, give the capac- bags that we form out of the mesentery of a cow. The
ity to the compost to make the plants, grown on the mesentery should be free of fat since that would inhibit
composted soils, resistant to disease. proper transformation once it is placed in the soil.
Also, when the bags are too large, there is a chance
The chamomile preparation is made of dried chamo- that the substance will turn into silage. A good size is
mile flowers that are briefly soaked in lukewarm about the amount of a baseball. These pockets are then
chamomile tea. This substance is then placed in freshly buried like chamomile. The dandelion preparation is
obtained intestines of a cow. Again, we see people working through the compost in giving wisdom to the
clean these intestines out a lot with water, but we rec- soil. All the positive influences from stream, pond,
ommend leaving them the way they are to avoid dam- forest, meadow, and fields become available to the
age. An intestine free from grass is ideal, but avoid any plant through the composted soil, giving the plant the
intestine from a cow that was grain-fed. The stuffed, faculty to attract these influences.
so-called sausages are then placed in the soil and kept
there over the winter. Great care is taken in what loca- The last is the valerian preparation. Here the flowers
tion the preparations are buried. The ideal location is are collected and the juice is pressed out. We are not
where snow usually accumulates. The intestines will blessed with having any significant amount of it grown
help the chamomile transform into a substance that will around us, so I do not have any personal experience
give the compost the ability to work in the processes with making this one. But I can describe how to make
in which potash and calcium are involved. The manure it. First, make sure you have the real Valeriana offi-
treated with the chamomile preparation shows greater cinalis. I have seen people using plants that look just
stability of its nitrogen content. like the valerian, but if it is not the real thing, it will
not do what we are expecting. What you are after is
The yarrow preparation is made with dried yarrow the juice of the flowers. You can use a press to squeeze
flowers that are briefly soaked in lukewarm yarrow the juice out of the flowers. There are two variations
tea. This substance is placed in the bladder of a stag available: one is fermented, which I prefer, and the
that is enlarged by simply having it blown up like a other is bottled up the way it comes out of the press.
balloon. This little bag is hung up on the south side The smell of the fermented valerian is wonderful.
of the barn during the summer months. In the fall This preparation is made without an animal compo-
it is buried the same as the chamomile preparation. nent like the nettle. The finished tincture is diluted in
The yarrow preparation gives the treated manure lukewarm water, stirred vigorously, and sprayed onto
the ability to work in the soil in such a way so that the compost pile. The valerian acts like a skin and
it is capable of adsorbing minute quantities of trace contributes an element of warmth to the pile. In the
minerals. spring, I take advantage of this ability by spraying the

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valerian tincture on tender plants to protect them from directly on the soil. If the soil has been worked, it can
early morning frost. readily adsorb the positive influences of this prepara-
tion. Horn manure directly influences the way organic
2. The field sprays matter is transformed in the soil. Its positive influences
are similar to what organic matter does to the soil. In
The horn-manure and horn-silica preparations are both general, we notice that horn manure works on germi-
made with the horn of a cow. The horn of the bull is nation, root development, and growth.
too soft. This is an interesting phenomena, which must
fluster the Darwinist. The Horn-Silica preparation makes use of a cow-
horn again and finely ground Silica. This is then placed
In the fall, we make the Horn-Manure preparation. in the ground during the summer months. A much
The manure from a lactating cow is selected. The smaller quantity than the horn manure, no more than a
manure should have enough form so that the shape pea-size amount, is stirred vigorously in 30 gallons of
of the intestines is somewhat visible. But avoid using water for one hour. This solution is sprayed directly on
pies that start looking like sheep-manure. We place the plants. The Horn Silica has a strong connection to
the manure into the horns and then bury them with the light and warmth forces of the summer. Its positive
the points of the horns sticking up to avoid rainwater influences are similar to what the summer sun contrib-
from collecting in them. In the month of May, this utes to the plants. It slows down growth but increases
preparation is dug up. The substance in the horns has the overall plant mass. Plants treated with this prepa-
by then become odorless. If there is a smell to it or if ration will have better taste and keeping qualities. All
it still looks like manure, then you know that it has preparations with the exception of Horn-Silica should
not been properly transformed. Before this preparation be stored in peat moss, in a dark, cool, and damp place.
is applied to the fields as a spray, we have to dilute Horn-Silica is left in a glass jar in a windowsill.
it in lukewarm water. About a baseball, size quantity
per thirty gallons of water is sufficient. This is stirred A study published in the Journal for Science com-
vigorously in one direction until a vortex is formed, pared organic, biodynamic and conventional research
then the direction is reversed and stirred in the oppo- plots and found that the number and diversity on the
site direction to create another vortex, etc. The total biodynamic plots were far greater that the organic
time of stirring is one hour. The solution will now ones. This research that was conducted over a 21-
start smelling again, not like manure, but definitely year period showed that the biodynamic preparations
alive. For filtering the liquid I found paint bags to greatly improve soil life. Another study performed by
be the best, the ones painters use to filter their paint. the University in Washington compared organic and
We do the filtering to avoid wasting time in the field biodynamic pastures in New Zealand. This study fo-
cleaning spray-nozzles. Our Solo backpack sprayer cused mostly on soil structure and rooting depth. The
covers about one acre if filled up. This is about three biodynamic plots had greater root systems and better
to three and a half gallons. This preparation is sprayed soil structure.

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Understanding Weed Biology

Charles L. Mohler
Senior Research Associate
Crop and Soil Sciences
Cornell University

What is a weed? for species that specialize on highly and repeatedly

disturbed conditions, namely weeds as defined above.

Weeds are commonly defined as plants that grow where The basic thesis of this paper is that understanding
they are not wanted. Although that definition has some the biology of weeds is a key to their control. The
practical utility, it fails to recognize that weeds share reason is that killing weeds without harming the crop
certain properties in common. Only a handful of the depends on biological differences between the weeds
species you see around show up in farm fields and and the crop. Weed biology becomes complicated,
other places that you dont want them. Understanding however, because weeds differ in their biology: there
what makes certain plants grow in human manipulated are many ways to be a weed. Fortunately, the variety
sites whereas others do not is a first step in planning of weeds can be grouped into a few categories based
management programs. From an ecological point of on the life-history of the species. That is, for manage-
view weeds are plants that are especially successful at ment purposes, weeds can be grouped according to
colonizing disturbed, but potentially productive, sites, how long various life stages live, and how the plant
and at maintaining their abundance under conditions reproduces. At the broadest scale, weeds can be di-
of repeated disturbance (Mohler 2001). vided into annuals and perennials, and I will begin
with the perennials.
Our crops are mostly annual species. That is, they com-
plete their lifespan in less than one year. To make the
habitat suitable for annuals, we eliminate the natural Perennial weeds
vegetation, which around here is broadleaf forest with
a little hemlock and white pine. Annuals do not grow
in forest conditions or in undisturbed prairie either, Types of perennials
because little seedlings cannot compete with large,
well-established plants that already occupy the site. A perennial weed is a weed that persists in the vegeta-
So to make the land suitable for annuals, we clear off tive state for more that one year. The types of perennials
the woody plants, and plow up the soil to disrupt the can be classified according to whether they reproduce
perennial herbs. In ecological terms, plowed fields are vegetatively, and the nature of the perennating organ
perpetually held at year 0 of ecological succession. In (Table 1, page 60).
other words, farming creates habitat that is suitable

Weed Management 59
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Table 1
Types of perennial weeds and examples.

Nature of the root system Examples

Stationary perennials
Taprooted Dandelion, burdock
Fibrous rooted Broadleaf plantain, tall buttercup
Wandering perennials
Bulb or tuber Yellow nutsedge, wild garlic
Shallow storage organ Quackgrass, johnsongrass
Deep storage organ Common bindweed, Canada thistle

Stationary perennials do not reproduce vegetatively, quently, if the population consists of a single clone, no
except occasionally when the taproot or root crown is seed production is possible. For example, only about
broken by a tillage implement. Most reproduction is one yellow nutsedge population in 10 produces viable
by seed, and they commonly produce copious quanti- seeds (Mulligan and Junkins 1976). For wandering
ties of seeds that typically persist in the soil for many perennials, seed production is mainly a way to spread
decades. Primarily, they are weeds of pastures, hay the species around rather than a way of maintaining the
meadows and waste ground. When the soil is regu- population at a particular site. For that, the plant relies
larly tilled, they tend to disappear after a year or two, on sprouts from the root or rhizome system.
except for species like dandelion that regularly blow
in from adjacent habitats. The reason for the absence Below-ground apical dominance in
of stationary perennials on tilled ground is two-fold. perennial weeds
First, since the root system is not well built for vegeta-
tive propagation, soil disturbance tends to damage the The key fact about the underground organs of perennial
storage organs and kill the plants. Second, stationary weeds is that they show what botanists refer to as apical
perennials are usually not very competitive the first dominance (Hkansson 1982). You are familiar with
year because they are putting energy into building the this phenomenon in the above ground shoots of plants:
taproot or the root crown so that they will have the if you prune off the end of a branch, the nearest lateral
resources to survive the winter. They are often highly bud (or buds if the leaves are opposite) will begin to
competitive in subsequent years, however, because elongate much sooner than they would otherwise.
they have these substantial reserves with which to This occurs because the growing point of the branch
rapidly establish in the spring and compete with any produces hormones (auxins) that suppress the growth
annuals present. These qualities explain both why they of the lateral buds. When the growing point is gone,
are usually minimal problems in organic annual agri- so is the suppression and the lateral buds grow. They
culture, and why they can reach substantial abundance then produce auxins that suppress the growth of buds
in pastures, hayfields, and conventional no-till fields. further down the stem.

Wandering perennials reproduce primarily by veg- Essentially the same phenomenon occurs in the root
etative reproduction. They spread underground by or rhizome system of wandering perennials (Figure 1).
thickened storage roots or by horizontal underground The above ground shoots emerge from the terminal bud
stems (rhizomes). A few species also produce bulbs of the rhizome or storage root. If this shoot is removed,
or tubers that are the overwintering storage organ for then the next bud in line is released and a new shoot
the plant. Although many of the wandering perenni- grows up to take the place of the one that was killed.
als do produce seeds under some conditions, typically More critically, if the root or rhizome is broken into
seed production is low, and the seeds usually do not pieces by a tillage implement, then the terminal bud
persist long in the soil. Most of these species do not on each piece will be released from suppression, and
self-pollinate (Mulligan and Findlay 1970), and conse- you will see lots of sprouts. Each of these sprouts will

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Figure 1
Due to hormonal suppression of most buds by the terminal shoot (apical dominance), breakage of rhizomes or
perennating roots results in an increase in the number of shoots, but a decrease in the resources available to each.

be relatively weak, however, because it is backed up grass density; cultivation without using a prior tillage
by small reserves of carbohydrate. practice that severely fragmented the weed would just
spread the infestation around. Competitive crops are
From a management perspective, this behavioral re- always helpful, but rarely sufficient to control peren-
sponse of wandering perennials is either good or bad nial weeds unless the weeds have previously been set
depending on what you do. If you till up a stand of back by tillage and cultivation.
quackgrass and then plant onions, you probably will
have worsened your weed problems. In contrast, if the Not all wandering perennial weeds sprout immediately
field is tilled, the fragments allowed to sprout, and then after fragmentation, but that is the usual pattern, and
you cultivate out the sprouts, you will have seriously most of the wandering perennials in the Northeast be-
depleted the already weakened rhizome fragments. have in this way. Some species, notably the common
Repeating this process, or planting a fast growing, and hedge bindweed and Canada thistle are not easily
highly competitive crop will further suppress the weed broken up by tillage because their root or rhizome sys-
(Hkansson 1971). Since quackgrass is a cool season tems are so deep in the soil. To get at hedge bindweed
grass, sowing a fall cover crop of rye or winter wheat at or Canada thistle requires subsoiling equipment, and
a high density is pretty effective. Note here that any one on a deep soil, much of the root system of common
of the several measures taken alone would probably bindweed will be completely out of reach. The only
be insufficient to control the weed. Just fragmenting alternative then is to try to exhaust the whole mass of
the rhizomes with tillage would likely increase quack- the root or rhizome system by repeated killing of the

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emerged shoots. For many wandering perennials, the limited or absent. In natural conditions, the main thing
shoot begins transporting food back to the root system that eliminates perennial vegetation is soil disturbance,
at about the 3 to 4 leaf stage, so that is a good time to usually by animal activity. So some of the signals that
cultivate. Before that, the shoot is a net drain on the cue germination are related to soil disturbance, whereas
perennating storage organs. others are simply related to the absence of vegetation
or near surface conditions. Few of the cues are absolute
requirements for any species. Rather, they change the
Weed seeds percentage of seeds that germinate and work together
to signal the appropriate conditions for germination.
No species responds to all of the cues discussed below,
Germination cues but most respond to several.

Annual species are plants in which the individual The most common cue that weeds respond to is light.
lives for less than one year. These species necessarily Most weed species show increased percentage germi-
reproduce by seeds. Because reproduction by seeds nation in light relative to darkness (Table 2, page 64).
is essential for annuals and they live in a frequently Some species, like common chickweed, germinate in
disturbed environment, they produce many small the dark when first shed from the plant, but after burial
seeds. They have been selected to produce many seeds in soil, show greatly increased germination if exposed
so as to spread the risk of death by disturbance over to light (Wesson and Waring 1969). The amount of
many offspring. Most weeds die young so they make light required to stimulate germination is sometimes
a lot of seeds to compensate for that mortality. Since amazingly small. For example, redroot pigweed will
each individual plant has limited resources, producing germinate in response to a few thousandths of a second
many seeds necessarily means that the seeds are small. of sunlight (Gallagher and Cardina 1998). Thus, if a
I will return to the consequences of small seed size seed comes to the surface during tillage or cultivation
repeatedly. Another way in which annuals manage the and then is buried again it may be stimulated to ger-
riskiness of specialization on disturbed environments minate. This is why tillage in the dark often reduces
is by recognizing the most favorable conditions for the density of weed seedlings (Ascard 1994, Scopel
germination. et al 1994, Buhler 1997). Dark tillage is no panacea,
however, since weeds respond to other cues as well.
Since most weed species have small seeds, most weed
seedlings lack the resources to be able to grow up from Even the type of light affects germination. Red light
deep in the soil and most emergence is from seeds stimulates germination. Light filtered through a plant
near the soil surface (Chancellor 1964, Mohler 1993). canopy is green; which is to say, it is depleted in the red
Nearly all individuals of small seeded weeds (and most wavelengths. Thus, if a light sensitive seed is exposed
weeds in the northeastern U.S.A. weigh less than 2 to green light, the seed senses that it is surrounded by
mg), emerge from within the top inch of soil (Figure 2, competing vegetation, and germination is inhibited
lambsquarters, redroot pigweed). Even relatively large (Grski 1975, King 1975). Seeds behave oppositely to
seeded weeds like velvetleaf (9.5 mg) mostly emerge cars: they stop on green and go on red, and ordinary
from within the top 2 inches of soil (Figure 2). Since sunlight is full of red wavelengths.
seeds that germinate deep in the soil die, weed seeds
that recognize when they are near the soil surface have Another factor that stimulates germination of some
been favored by natural selection. weed species is high soil temperature. For example,
redroot pigweed germinates best at 86 to 104 F
Since most weeds have small seeds, they make tiny (Table 3, page 64). Soil temperatures that high are
seedlings. A lambsquarters seedling when it first comes rarely achieved except near the surface of bare soil.
up has cotyledons that are about 1/32 of an inch wide Common purslane germinates best at similarly high
and 1/8 inch long. Such tiny plants have no chance of temperatures (Vengris et al. 1972).
survival in established perennial vegetation like a hay
meadow or forest. Consequently, most weeds have When soil is bare, the high temperatures obtained
been selected for physiological mechanisms that allow during the day are often not retained during the night
the seeds to recognize that competing vegetation is because the soil cools by emitting infrared radiation to

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Figure 2
Proportion of seeds planted at a given depth that emerged as seedlings for three common weed species
Seeds were cold treated at 40 F in field soil for approximately two months and then placed at the indicated depth in early
spring without exposure to light.
(Redrawn from Mohler, in preparation)

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Table 2
Germination response of some common weeds to light.

% Germination
Species Light Dark Reference
Redroot pigweed 98 14 Kigel (1994)
Annual bluegrass 89 1 Froud-Williams (1985)
Common purslane 28 12 Povilitis (1956)

Table 3
Percentage germination of redroot pigweed seeds in response to temperature in five northern states. Computed from
McWilliams et al. (1968)

Location Populations tested 68 F 95 F

Michigan 1 0 90
Minnesota 1 15 100
New York 5 6 93
North Dakota 17 23 80
Vermont 1 15 93

the sky. Consequently, surface soil temperature fluc- When diffusion of gasses is limited, for example, deep
tuates much more for bare soil than for soil covered in the soil or in the interior of soil aggregates, oxygen
by living or dead plants (Teasdale and Mohler 1993). may limit the respiration of seeds. Seeds are alive,
Many weed species use this temperature fluctuation and moist seeds are particularly active metabolically.
as a means for recognizing bare ground (Table 4). For When oxygen is limited, respiration cannot take car-
curlydock, temperature fluctuation is nearly an absolute bohydrates all the way to carbon dioxide and water.
requirement (Totterdell and Roberts 1980). Provided Instead the seed produces volatile organic compounds
the seeds are exposed to light, percentage germination like ethanol and acetone. These leak from the seed and
at any constant temperature from 35 to 95 F is near build up in its vicinity. These compounds indicate a
0 but a variety of different fluctuating temperature terrible environment for establishment, and they inhibit
regimens give 100% germination. germination of some species (e.g., velvetleaf). When
the soil is stirred by tillage, the volatile products of
Weed seeds also germinate in response to chemical anaerobic respiration are vented to the breezes and the
cues associated with soil disturbances like tillage. seeds germinate in response to their absence. I suspect
Aeration and warming of the soil by tillage stimulates this germination cueing mechanism is quite common,
microbial decomposition of soil organic matter. This but few weed species have been tested. The seeds are
releases nitrogenous compounds that specialized apparently not responding to oxygen itself since flush-
bacteria turn into nitrate. Nitrate in the soil solution ing the soil with pure nitrogen will prompt germination
stimulates germination of some weed species, like as readily as flushing with air (Holm 1972).
lambsquarters (Roberts and Benjamin 1979). In addi-
tion to the problems chemical fertilizers create for the As can be seen from Tables 2 to 4 and the discussion
soil, this is another good reason to avoid them. above, germination response to any one particular cue

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Table 4
Effects of constant and fluctuating temperature on germination of common chickweed seeds in the dark. In the
alternating temperature treatment, the high temperature was held for 8 h and the low temperature for 16 h. Extracted
from Roberts and Lockett (1975).

Regimen Temperature (F) Germination (%)

Extreme alternating 50/86 98
Constant low 50 48
Constant high 86 2
Constant middle 68 65

Low temperature alternating 59/77 97

Constant low 59 77
Constant high 77 12
Constant middle 68 65

High temperature alternating 68/86 84

Constant low 68 65
Constant high 86 2
Constant middle 77 12

Mean of alternating 96
Mean of middle 47

is rarely absolute. Rather the cues act cumulatively, Season of germination

and one cue can often replace another (Vincent and
Roberts 1977, Roberts and Benjamin 1979). If no cues All plants that live in a seasonal climate like the
are present, a few seeds may germinate, essentially Northeast face the problem of knowing what time of
by mistake. If several cues are present, most seeds year to germinate, and weeds are no exception. Every
will germinate. If just one or two cues are present, season has weeds that are specialized on that time of
some fraction will germinate. This partial response year (Figure 3, page 66).
to multiple cues essentially hedges the bet each weed
species is making about the suitability of the environ- A few weed species, like velvetleaf and common bind-
ment for establishment and growth. If the environ- weed have hard seed coats that prevent the seeds from
ment is maybe OK but not perfect, some individuals absorbing water. The seed coat changes with exposure
will germinate whereas others in a slightly different to soil conditions: organic acids, microorganisms and
physiological state or microenvironment will wait, freeze-thaw cycles produce cracks or open specialized
perhaps for years. pores that allow water to enter the seed. Then, if the
environmental cues are right, the seed germinates.
The management consequences of weed seed response Since winter represents a long period for these changes
to germination cues associated with near surface tilled to take place, species with hard seeds usually germi-
conditions is that you can often trick weeds into ger- nate and emerge mostly in the spring with a trickle of
minating on command. A short period of bare fallow germination through the rest of the growing season.
before or after the crop signals the weeds to germinate
but gives you the opportunity to then cultivate and get Most weed species, including many with hard seed
rid of them. coats, have physiological mechanisms that control

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Figure 3
Seasonality of seedling emergence for eight weeds in the southern United Kingdom
(Redrawn from Mohler 2001 based on data from Lawson et al 1974)

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when the seeds germinate. Some species will germi- to mature and this mechanism essentially protects the
nate immediately after falling from the parent plant, if seeds from germinating in late summer or fall when
the appropriate cues are present. These species follow successful reproduction would be unlikely.
the path from no dormancy to immediate germination
shown on Figure 4. Subtleties abound with the annual germination-dor-
mancy cycle. Shepherds-purse, for example, behaves
Many weed species, however, cycle between a dormant much like ragweed, but with a slight difference. It
and nondormant state during the course of the year germinates best at relatively low temperatures and will
(Baskin and Baskin 1985). For example, common germinate in the spring. Unlike ragweed, however,
ragweed is primarily a spring germinating species. shepherds-purse only becomes conditionally dormant
Seeds are shed from the parent plant in a dormant state. at high temperatures (Baskin and Baskin 1989). Con-
As they are exposed to cold temperatures during the sequently, when temperatures cool in the fall, more
winter, they become conditionally dormant. That seeds will germinate, including some of those shed
is, if conditions are just right, they will germinate. the previous spring. Thus the species behaves as both
After a longer exposure to cold (4-6 weeks) they lose a spring and a winter annual in the Northeast, and in
dormancy and will germinate under a wide range of cool, wet summers it will germinate all summer.
conditions. So when the weather warms in the spring
you often see a flush of ragweed seedlings. However, The management consequences of weed seasonality
if the appropriate germination cues are absent, and relates to crop rotation. A spring germinating species
the seed cooks at summer temperatures, it will again will fare poorly in a fall planted crop like spelt or a
become dormant (Baskin and Baskin 1980). That is, rye cover crop because the new seedlings will have to
it will be unable to germinate even if given optimal compete with a dense stand of well established plants.
germination conditions. Ragweed takes several months Similarly, summer germinating weeds like purslane

Figure 4
Relationships among states of seed dormancy for weed seeds with physiologically controlled dormancy
(reprinted with permission of Cambridge University Press; from Mohler 2001, Ecological Management of Agricultural Weeds)

Weed Management 67
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will do poorly in a good stand of a long season crop to germinate. Some of these will appear as seedlings
like soybeans. In both these cases, many of the weed and have to be dealt with, but many others never make
seeds will not even germinate because the appropriate it out of the soil due to attack by soil organisms or
cues are not there at the right time. Natural processes being buried too deeply for emergence. Regardless of
then have another year in which to kill off the seeds. its other benefits or problems, tillage and cultivation
The extreme of this latter process occurs when the tends to deplete the soil seed bank.
ground is planted with a sod crop for several years.
Weed seeds under the sod do not receive the appro- Seed size and crop-weed competition
priate germination cues, and any that germinate acci-
dentally are killed by competition or mowing. Hairy I have mentioned several times that most weeds have
galinsoga is the worst weed problem many vegetable very small seeds. In particular their seeds are small
growers face because they grow annual crops every relative to the seeds of most crop species (Table 6).
year. In contrast, I have never seen a dairy farm with This size differential gives the crops a critical head
a galinsoga problem because they rotate annual crops start over the weeds. Of course, some vegetable crops
with sod crops, and the galinsoga seeds die out during also have small seeds (for example, lettuce, cole crops,
the sod portion of the cycle. tomato, pepper). On organic farms, the great majority
of small seeded vegetable species are transplanted
Seed longevity into the field, which gives them the same sort of head
start that the large seeded crops have over the weeds.
This brings me to the topic of seed mortality and its A conventional vegetable grower may direct seed cole
converse, seed longevity. Unlike humans, weed seeds crops, tomatoes or leaks and use herbicides to control
do not have a more or less given lifespan. Rather, their the early weeds. For an organic farmer, the extra labor
probability of death remains about equal each year, as- of weeding a direct seeding is likely to exceed the cost
suming the environment is constant. That is, weather, of growing transplants.
management practices, or other conditions may lead
to greater or lesser mortality in any given year, but if The differential in seed size has several consequences.
conditions are constant over a series of years, then a First, it makes within row weeding possible. For ex-
constant percentage of seeds will tend to die each year. ample, you can take a tine weeder over many large
If seeds took out life insurance, the annual payment seeded crops before they are up or while they are
for an 80 year old would be the same as for a 20 year
old. Consequently, asking how long a particular species
lasts in the soil is nearly meaningless.
Table 5
Seed mortality as percentage loss per year in cultivated
Various species differ in their rate of death (Table 5). and uncultivated soil over a 5 year period. Calculated
Some species survive well, with only a small per- from Roberts and Feast (1972).
centage dying each year. In undisturbed agricultural
soil the death rate of buried lambsquarters was less
Species Cultivateda Uncultivated
than 10%/year in the particular experiment shown in
Table 5. In really favorable conditions the death rate Shepherds-purse 43 24
is probably even lower: viable lambsquarters seeds Lambsquarters 31 8
have been recovered from under the foundations of Black medic 30 22
medieval European buildings. For other species, like Annual bluegrass 26 22
common groundsel and hairy galinsoga, the seeds die Prostrate knotweed 47 16
off rapidly, even when undisturbed. Wild buckwheat 50 25
Common groundsel High 45
Of course, in an agricultural field the seeds are rarely
undisturbed. Rather, the field is tilled, a seedbed pre- Common chickweed 54 32
pared and often the soil is cultivated later in the season. Persian speedwell 54 22
Debris may be disked under in the fall or the ground Field violet 40 15
chisel plowed in preparation for the next season. As I
discussed previously, this soil disturbance cues seeds a Soil was stirred four times per year.

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still small without killing the crop. The crop is rooted Another important consequence of the seed size differ-
below the depth of penetration of the weeder (usually ence between crops and weeds is that crops can emerge
about 1 inch), but as I pointed out earlier, most of the through substantial layers of mulch whereas weeds are
weeds are emerging from the top inch of soil and are suppressed (Figure 5). If our weeds had seeds the size
therefore susceptible. All in-row weeding tools rely of corn or beans, mulch would be a completely useless
on this differential between the size of the crop and way to suppress them.
the size of the weeds, including rotary hoes, Buddingh
finger weeders and Bezzerides torsion weeders, spring Finally, because the crop usually gets a head start over
hoes and spinners. the weeds, with some planning, it is often possible to

Table 6
Propagule weight for the five most common annual weeds of field crops in New York state and for the five annual field
crops with the greatest acreage in New York State. Weeds and crops are listed in order of seed size not importance or
acreage. Excerpted from Mohler (1996).

Propagule Propagule
Weed species weight (mg)a Crop species weight (mg)a
Velvetleaf 9.5 Corn 250
Common ragweed 4.4 Soybean 220
Wild mustard 2.2 Wheat 39
Lambsquarters 0.74 Oat 35
Redroot pigweed 0.44 Rye 27

a American units of weight do not include familiar units appropriate for expressing seed weights. One
lettuce seed weighs about 1 mg.

Figure 5
Proportion of a large seeded crop (corn) and a small seeded weed (redroot pigweed) that emerged through various
rates of rye straw applied as a mulch at planting. Each species was planted at a depth that had produced high
emergence rates without mulch in previous experiments.
(Mohler, unpublished data)

Weed Management 69
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keep the crop in a competitively superior position. a higher percentage of tissue in non-photosynthetic
Weeds are gap fillers they are adapted to grow rapidly parts like roots and stems relative to leaves. Conse-
in the absence of competitors, and with few exceptions quently, the relative growth rate (that is, weight gain/
they grow poorly in shade. Sometimes the crop can unit weight/day) of species with large seedlings is less.
be made more competitive by using a higher planting A financial analogy would be two individuals, one
density, or planting multiple rows on a bed. If that is of which (the crop) starts with more capital, but the
practical, then the crop canopy will close sooner, and other (the weed) invest at a higher rate of compound
the weeds will be at a greater disadvantage. Similarly, interest. Consequently, weeds that start out so small
if the row has a skip, that is an opportunity for weed you can barely see them may eventually overtop the
growth. Consequently, skips should be replanted. If the crops. This is why early weeding while the weeds are
crop stand is poor over a large area, it may be cheaper still tiny and easy to kill is so critical to a good organic
to disk the crop under and replant or plant some other weed control program.
crop rather than cope with the extra expense of weed
control. In my experience, something like 80% or more Seed production
of weed control comes from crop competition rather
than from cultivating or hand weeding. Make sure As I mentioned in the introduction, weeds have adapted
there is always a crop or cover crop there to provide to frequent disturbance by partitioning their reproduc-
that control. tive output into lots of small seeds rather than a few
large ones. This spreads risk and increases the chance
Another trick to increase crop competitiveness is to that one or more seeds will grow to maturity.
direct water or nutrients toward the crop rather than
broadcasting them generally over the field. Drip ir- The seed production capacity of weeds is astounding.
rigation favors the crop relative to the weeds more A big lambsquarters or barnyardgrass plant can pro-
than sprinkler irrigation because the water is released duce over 100,000 seeds. I once sampled a large, open
near the crop roots rather than over the whole field. grown pigweed that produced an estimated 250,000
Similarly, if a concentrated nutrient source like bone seeds. A student of mine grew some hairy galinsoga in
or blood meal is used to give the crop a boost, it is pots and carefully collected the seeds as they formed.
best to weed first, and band or sidedress the material Plants a little bigger than a basketball produced 40,000
near the crop. Most weeds are luxury feeders that will seeds apiece.
rapidly take up and concentrate mineral nutrients.
Several studies have shown that weeds often have I will emphasize that big plants have many more seeds
one to three times higher concentrations of N, P and K than small plants. Compare, say, two redroot pigweed
than the crops with which they are competing (Vengris plants. If one is twice as tall, or twice as big around,
et al. 1953, Qasem 1992). Some studies have shown it will not have twice as many seeds but rather, many,
that the slow release of nutrients from green manure many times more seeds (Mohler and Callaway 1995).
or compost favors growth of crops relative to weeds Consequently, removing large individual weeds is
(Dyck et al. 1995, Gallandt et al. 1998). This makes important for long-term weed management, even if
sense biologically, but too few studies have been done it means hand rogueing the field. Fortunately, most
to make a generalization yet. weed seeds come from a few large plants (Figure 6).
The little plants may produce enough seeds to maintain
The problem with the initial size advantage of crops the population, but they are unlikely to create a rapid
is that it is usually short lived. This is because most increase in weed density.
weeds have a higher relative growth rate than the crops
with which they compete. This is partially due to the Also, when rogueing mature or nearly mature plants,
difference in seed size and partially due to differences be sure to remove them from the field. Many weed spe-
in their growth forms and ability to take up nutrients. cies can set seeds even after they have been uprooted
The relation of seed size to growth rate is particularly if the flowers have opened. Dandelion flowers will set
interesting (Table 7). Large seeds make large seedlings, seeds even if they have been severed from the plant
and these grow faster in an absolute sense of weight and incorporated into the soil!
of tissue added per day. However, larger plants have

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Table 7
Seed weight, initial growth rate, and relative growth rate of five annual plants with seeds of various sizes. Excerpted
from Siebert and Pierce (1993)

Initial Relative
Seed growth growth
weight rate rate
Species (mg)a (mg/d) (mg/mg/d)
Lambsquarters 0.41 0.14 0.36
Velvetleaf 7.8 1.9 0.24
Cocklebur 38 7.1 0.19
Sunflower 61 12 0.20
Soybean 158 24 0.16

a American units of weight do not include familiar units appropriate for expressing seed weights. One
lettuce seed weighs about 1 mg.

Figure 6
Distribution of estimated seed production in a population of 231 redroot pigweed plants growing in sweet corn. Sweet
corn was planted in early June and weeds emerged primarily in July after the dissipation of atrazine
(Redrawn from Mohler 2001, see Mohler and Callaway 1995)

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Seed dispersal question is, are new weed species still arriving on
your farm?
Many plant species have specializations that encourage
the dispersal of seeds by animals or by wind, including The spread of velvetleaf makes a good example of
fleshy fruits, hooks, bristles, fluffy hairs, and wings. the way civilization moves weed species around the
A substantial portion of the perennial weeds found in landscape. The Flora of the Cayuga Lake Basin, New
pastures and hay meadows possess such specializa- York (Wiegand and Eames 1925) lists velvetleaf as
tions. This is reasonable since animals are regularly infrequent and gives six locations one could go to
in contact with these plants, and vegetative reproduc- see this species in an area of about three counties.
tion insures the persistence of the population even if Velvetleaf was introduced from India to the southern
many wind-dispersed seeds are blown into unfavorable colonies as a fiber crop in the Eighteenth Century. It
habitats. subsequently spread to the Midwest with the westward
migration of agriculture. During the late Twentieth
In contrast, few weeds of regularly tilled fields show Century it spread throughout the Northeast, probably
any of these adaptations. On the contrary, most weeds in feed corn as dairy farms began importing more con-
of tilled ground have small, round, nearly smooth seeds centrates from the Midwest (Mt. Pleasant and Schlather
that fall within a few feet of the parent plant. This 1994). Since the seeds readily pass through the bovine
poses an apparent contradiction: some of the worlds digestive tract, the farmers spread the weed on their
most widespread species appear to lack capacity for fields with the cattle manure. As a result, about half
dispersal. The resolution to the contradiction is, of the fields in New York now have velvetleaf. Since the
course, that they have been moved around by people. seeds are very persistent in the soil, these fields will
They move in poorly cleaned crop seed, in feed grain probably have velvetleaf for as long as they are farmed.
and then in the manure when it is spread, on tractor
tires and tillage machinery, and on combines and other
harvesting equipment (Mohler 2001). Conclusions
An interesting bit of biology lurks within this dispersal
by humans. As discussed previously, most species of Agricultural weeds are not simply unwanted plants.
weed seeds are highly resistant to decomposition. They Rather they are species with particular biological
persist in the soil for long periods, and consequently characteristics that set them apart from most other
can build up to high densities that make dispersal species, including most crops. These characteristics
on machinery likely. Moreover, most species pass adapt them to the frequently disturbed conditions and
unharmed through the digestive tract of large grazing high resource availability of cropped fields. These
mammals. Prior to human agriculture they probably characteristics include:
thrived best in animal disturbed habitats (bare ground
and high fertility), and moved about within the guts Resprouting from damaged roots and rhizomes of
and in soil caked on the fur of migrating animal herds. perennial weeds,
I can easily imagine ragweed seeds moving many miles
caked to the fur of wandering bison or mammoths. Ability of seeds to recognize suitable conditions
for germination, including proximity to the soil
Probably, however, none of the weeds on your farms surface, the absence of competing plants, the
reached there in prehistoric times. The land survey presence of essential resources like nitrogen and
records indicate that over 97% of the landscape of water, and an appropriate season of the year for
western New York was forested in the 1790s, and subsequent growth,
most of the balance was in wetlands, blowdowns and
recent burns (Marks and Gardescue 1992). With few Massive production of small seeds that persist for
exceptions, agricultural weeds do not grow in forests years to decades in the soil,
or wetlands, even when they are disturbed by natural
processes. Rather, these weeds mostly arrived on your Ability to rapidly take up and concentrate macro-
farms after Europeans settled the land. The critical nutrients.

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Although these characteristics adapt weed species to attractive.

prosper in cropped fields, they also provide opportuni-
ties for management. Finally, the great difference in size between weed
seeds and crop seeds or transplants allows for in-
Breaking up perennial roots and rhizomes increas- row mechanical weeding of many crops, and is a
es the number of shoots of wandering perennials, fundamental reason organic mulches are effective
but each of the subsequent shoots is weaker and for weed management.
more easily managed by cultivation or competi-
tion. Removal of above ground shoots forces the Much remains to be discovered about the biology of
perennial to move resources from the storage organ weeds. Germination requirements have been fully
into new shoots, thereby decreasing its ability to analyzed for only a few species. More critically, effects
survive over the long term. of the soil environment on weed growth and competi-
tion with crops has been little studied. In some cases,
Understanding of the germination biology of an- slow releasing forms of nitrogen like compost and
nual weeds allows the farmer to trick the seeds green manure appears to favor crops whereas chemi-
into germinating at times when they are easily cal fertilizers appear to favor weeds, but the generality
controlled, for example, by a short period of clean of this phenomenon has not been demonstrated. The
fallow or a smother crop. Rotation of crops with role of micronutrients and ratios of macronutrients are
different seasonality presents some species with in- widely believed among organic farmers to be impor-
appropriate conditions for germination each year, tant for both crop growth and weed competition, but
thereby allowing attrition by natural processes to these topics have received little systematic research,
decrease soil seed banks. particularly in organic systems where effects are less
likely to be masked by intensive chemical management
Recognition of the seed production potential of of crops, weeds and soils. Hopefully, the recent growth
weeds and how this varies with weed size makes in the organic sector will spur increased investigation
the economics of preventing seed production more of these topics.

Weed Management 73
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Mulligan, G. A. and J. N. Findlay. 1970. Reproductive
systems and colonization in Canadian weeds. Canadian Totterdell, S. and E. H. Roberts. 1980. Characteristics
Journal of Botany 48:859-860. of alternating temperatures which stimulate loss of
dormancy in seeds of Rumex abtusifolius L. and Rumex
Mulligan, G. A. and B. E. Junkins. 1976. The biology crispus L. Plant, Cell and Environment 3:3-12.
of Canadian weeds. 17. Cyperus esculentus L. Cana-
dian Journal of Plant Science 56:339-350. Vengris, J., M. Drake, W. G. Colby, and J. Bart. 1953.
Chemical composition of weeds and accompanying
Povilitis, B. 1956. Dormancy studies with seeds of crop plants. Agronomy Journal 45:213-218.
various weed species. Proceedings of the International
Seed Testing Association 21:88-111. Vengris, J., S. Dunn, and M. Stacewicz-Sapuncakis.
1972. Life history studies as related to weed control
Qasem, J. R. 1992. Nutrient accumulation by weeds in the Northeast. 7 Common purslane. Research
and their associated vegetable crops. Journal of Hor- Bulletin 598, Agricultural Experiment Station, The
ticultural Science 67:189-195. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.

Roberts, H. A. and S. K. Benjamin. 1979. The interac- Vincint, E. M. and E. H. Roberts. 1977. The interaction
tion of light, nitrate and alternating temperature on the of light, nitrate and alternating temperature in promot-
germination of Chenopodium album, Capsella bursa- ing the germination of dormant seeds of common weed
pastoris and Poa annuua before and after chilling. Seed species. Seed Science and Technology 5:659-670.
Science and Technology 7:379-392.
Wesson, G. and P. F. Wareing. 1969. The induction of
Roberts, H. A., and P. M. Feast. 1972. Fate of seeds of light sensitivity in weed seeds by burial. Journal of
some annual weeds in different depths of cultivated and Experimental Botany 20:414-425.
undisturbed soil. Weed Research 12:316-324.
Wiegand, K. M. and A. J. Eames. 1925. The Flora of
Roberts, H. A., and P. M. Lockett. 1975. Germination the Cayuga Lake Basin, New York: Vascular Plants.
of buried and dry-stored seeds of Stellaria media. Weed Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station Memoir 92,
Research 15:199-304. 491 p.

Weed Management 75
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Weed Management on Organic Vegetable

Vern Grubinger
Vegetable and Berry Specialist
University of Vermont Extension
157 Old Guilford Rd. #4
Brattleboro VT 05301-3669
(802) 257-7967

Many organic vegetable growers consider weeds to Weed suppression techniques include:
be their primary pest problem. Integrating a variety
of weed control techniques is the best way to achieve Growing smother crops, intercrops and/or aggres-
effective organic weed control. sive cash crops

Weed management techniques are aimed at prevent- Hand-hoeing and hand-pulling

ing weeds before they appear, or at suppressing weeds
once they are present. Mechanical cultivation

Weed prevention techniques include: Flame-weeding

Rotation of crops, fields and tillage tools Applying post-emergent organic herbicide (soaps,
acetic acid, etc.)
Composting animal manures to kill weed seeds
Weed prevention is essential to organic weed man-
Cleaning farm implements between use in different agement. Otherwise the need for cultivation can be
fields excessive, eating into time and profits, and potentially
damaging soil structure. Hand weeding is obviously
Controlling weeds in hedgerows, alleys, ditches, costly and must be kept to a minimum. Weed preven-
etc. before they set seed tion practices should begin in the years prior to planting
a crop, with cover crops in a well-designed rotation. In
Growing allelopathic cover crops the cropping year, clean fallowing and stale seedbeds
may prepare for crop planting. Then, weed-crop com-
Mulching with plastics or organic residues petition can be managed through various combinations
of cultivation, mulching, intercropping, mowing, and
Applying pre-emergent organic herbicide (corn concentrating resources near the crop.
gluten meal)

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Cultural practices which it is critical to minimize soil movement when

planting or transplanting. Early-season stale seed-
beds are often ineffective, as most broadleaf weeds
Crop rotation germinate in warm soils. Many growers create a stale
seedbed only in the crop row using a hand-held flamer,
Crop rotation subjects weeds to an ever-changing while cultivating between the rows. This works well
habitat, reducing the opportunity for certain species with crops that are slow to establish, like carrots and
to proliferate. Rotation strategies for weed control onions.
include row versus sod crops, frequently versus rarely
cultivated crops, deep versus shallow tillage crops, Composting animal manure
early- versus late-season crops, and fallow versus
cash-cropped periods. Composting animal manure helps reduce the number
of weed seeds added to the soil. In composting where
Smother cropping temperatures reach approximately 140 degrees F many
weed seeds can be killed. Maintaining the proper C:N
Smother cropping is cover cropping with competitive ratio, moisture and aeration, and turning piles inside-
species in an attempt to starve weeds of light, nutrients, out several times is important to ensure that most or
moisture and space. Smothering can weaken perennial all of the compost does indeed get hot. Turning also
weeds by depleting their carbohydrate reserves, and keeps weeds that sprout on the pile surface from go-
can lessen annual weed pressure by slowing growth ing to seed.
and reducing seed production. Fast-growing, high-
biomass species make good smother crops because Mulching
they can get a jump on, and over, weeds.
Mulching the soil provides a physical barrier to weed
Warm-season cover crops such as buckwheat, Japa- growth. Organic residues such as straw, leaves, etc.
nese millet and sorghum-Sudangrass are good summer can suppress weeds for many weeks if put on thickly,
smother crops in hot conditions, but they should not be but they keep soil temperatures cooler which may
planted until soils are thoroughly warm. Cool season slow the growth of warm season crops. A thin layer of
crops like oats, field pea, and ryegrass are candidates organic residues can be worse then none at all, since
for smother cropping in the early spring and fall. weed prevention will be poor but cultivation may be
High seeding rates, adequate moisture and fertility, hampered.
and good soil-seed contact by drilling or otherwise
covering seed are important to establishing a thick Black plastic mulch completely blocks light from
smother crop. weeds and is a very effective weed suppressor. Clear
plastic mulches warm the soil to a greater extent than
Stale seedbeds black plastic, but allow light to penetrate thereby
encouraging weed growth. Selective wavelength
Stale seedbeds takes advantage of the fact that most mulches, such as IRT, behave in between black and
weeds have small seeds that germinate from the top clear plastic, allowing limited weed growth. If weed
inch or two of the soil, usually within a couple of weeks pressure is high and canopy growth is slow then there
of preparing soil for planting. By letting these weeds may be a lot of weeds under clear or IRT plastic. How-
germinate and then killing them without disturbing ever, under conditions of strong sunlight, solarization
the soil and bringing up new weed seeds, subsequent may kill weeds that grow under clear plastic if it is left
weed pressure can be greatly reduced. In some cases, undisturbed for several weeks prior to making planting
growers using stale seedbeds actually encourage weed holes in it. Paper mulches have been used with limited
germination with irrigation or row covers to overcome success since they tend to deteriorate during the season.
dry or cool conditions that slow weed growth. Throwing soil up on the edges as they decompose has
helped keep paper mulches in place for some growers.
Weeds can be killed with flaming, nonselective Organic growers need to avoid paper mulches treated
organic herbicides (potassium salts of fatty acids, with prohibited materials.
acetic acid, etc.) or extremely shallow scraping, after

Weed Management 77
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The edges of plastic or paper mulch pose a special Crop establishment

challenge because weeds often grow well there but
the mulch is easily ripped by close cultivation. To Crop establishment techniques that encourage the rapid
avoid hand-weeding, some growers have developed early growth of vegetables and discourage rapid early
innovative cultivation tools to deal with this unique growth of weeds can minimize weed control costs.
zone. These tools usually undercut then replace the Transplants give crops an obvious jump over weeds
mulch, or cultivate extremely close it. Both approaches compared to direct seeding. Carefully placed starter
require straight runs of mulch with uniformly buried fertilizer feeds crops not weeds.
edges. The planting hole may require hand weeding
with slow-growing crops. Bulb planters, propane
torches and other devices have been used to create Cultivation
small, uniform holes for planting into.

Interseeding Cultivation equipment for weed control varies in ag-

gressiveness and is usually suited to killing weeds
Interseeding is a form of inter-cropping that can add to either before or after the crop emerges. Tools designed
soil organic matter, reduce soil erosion, improve field for use after a crop emerges provide either between-
trafficability and also suppress weeds. To avoid com- row weed control or in-row weed control, or in some
petition with the cash crop it is advisable to interseed cases, both. Cultivation implements are designed to
moderately competitive cover crops like low-growing dislodge, cut and/or bury plants. Matching the tool to
clovers and/or ryegrasses into relatively vigorous the weeds, crops and soil conditions is key. Juggling
cash crops like corn, potatoes or squash; to leave a the uncertainties of weather and other management
bare planting strip for the cash crop that is kept free demands on the farm is the challenge to using a culti-
of intercrops as well as weeds; to sow the cover crop vation tool at the right time.
after the cash crop is well-established, usually at last
cultivation; and to provide irrigation. Pre-emergence cultivation

Mowing Pre-emergence cultivation often involves shallow

tillage of the soil with rotovators, various harrows
Mowing (or weed-whacking) vegetation between the or field cultivators. If performed repeatedly, this ap-
rows of a cash crop can control weeds, and or cer- proach is called a clean fallow that can occur before
tain intercrops. It also enhances the environment for or in-between plantings. The objective is to kill annual
harvesting and pick-your-own sales. In most cases, weeds, reduce the soil weed seed bank and remove
between-row mowing is only practical on a small perennial weed growth. While rather harsh on soil
scale, or where rows are wide enough to accommodate structure and organic matter, this technique can be
tractor-pulled mowers. Side-discharge mowers damage justified if used in combination with a good cover
crops by blowing debris on them. crop rotation and/or addition of soil amendments to
maintain soil structure.
Placement of resources
Disk harrows
Placement of resources can be used to favor crops over
weeds. By banding and sidedressing fertilizer, and Disk harrows are often used for clean fallowing, but
in some cases by using drip irrigation, weeds can be they may not be the best choice with a perennial weed
denied nutrients or water needed for good growth. A problem like quackgrass, since rhizomes tend to be
word of caution is that many plants send roots laterally chopped up and spread them throughout a field. Field
to obtain resources, so locating water and fertilizer only cultivators are used to create a seedbed and incorpo-
in the row may be more useful in limiting between-row rate residues and soil amendments, as well as for weed
weed pressure only if the rows are far apart. control. Equipped with rows of S-tines and sweeps or
shovel with lifting action, they can be used to dig up
and lift quackgrass rhizomes to the surface of the soil
where they will dry out and die in hot dry weather. A

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variety of field cultivators are on the market, they vary High clearance tractors
in tine shape, flexibility, action, and spacing, as well as
options like rollers, cultipackers, crop shields, leveling High clearance tractors facilitate post-emergence
bars, and gauge wheels. mechanical weed control since crops up to several
feet tall can pass under the tractor, and tools can be
Blind cultivation belly-mounted in view of the operator, increasing the
precision of cultivation. Off-set high clearance tractors
Blind cultivation relies on tools that work the entire are even better for cultivating because the drivers seat
surface of the soil over the top of a recently seeded or is off to the side of the tractor body, further enhancing
recently emerged crop. The technique combines in-row vision of the row.
and between-row cultivation, often to control weeds
that have germinated but not yet emerged, the so-called Cultivating tractors
white-thread stage of growth. This disturbs and dries
out small, vulnerable weeds before they start to size Cultivating tractors are small, low to the ground, easy
up alongside the crop. Such fast, shallow cultivation to guide and used only for precision cultivation of
works best on weeds that have been up for week or less. young or low-growing crops. The cultivation tools and
Large-seeded crops sown deeply and young vigorous the crop row(s) being cultivated are easily viewed by
crops are able to tolerate such cultivation, while very the operator. The Allis Chalmers G tractor, no longer
small annual weeds cannot. made, is the classic of this type. Other brands, Hyspan,
Saulkville, and Friday, are currently available.
Flex-tine weeders
Basket weeders
Flex-tine weeders can be used for blind cultivation
on a number of vegetable crops. The weight of these Basket weeders are metal cages that roll on top of and
units may be borne by the numerous thin metal tines scuff the soil surface without moving soil sideways
that wiggle and dislodge weeds, or by gauge wheels into the crop rows. This action makes them ideal for
attached to the frame. Gauge wheels help control tine crops like lettuce that have to be kept free of soil and
depth and avoid gouging soil on uneven fields. With are not suited to hilling. Buddingh basket weeders are
some units, the 3-point hitch can be used to adjust custom built for two to eight row beds. Angled baskets
downward pressure on the tines. Tine weeders width are available to work the sides of raised beds. Basket
ranges from narrow, bed-covering sizes to very wide widths range from 2 to 14 inches depending on the
units useful in large fields. Lely and Einbock are com- space between rows. For wider widths, and for inner
mon brands. row widths that change as crops grow, overlapping
baskets are available that telescope or expand in and
Rotary hoe out to adjust for the width.

A more aggressive blind cultivator is the rotary hoe. It Commonly used at speeds of 4 to 8 mph, straight rows
has many thin spider wheels each with 16 or 18 tips, or and an experienced operator are helpful to avoid crop
spoons, which dislodge very small weeds. The spiders damage. The front row of baskets turn at ground speed
move independently and bear the weight of the unit, and a chain drives the rear row of baskets a little bit
although gauge wheels are available. Rotary hoes come faster; these kick up soil, and dislodge weeds that
in widths of 6 feet and up. They are most often used survive the first baskets. This tool is almost always
for weed control in corn and beans and for breaking belly-mounted to assist with close cultivation. The
up the surface of soils prone to crusting. Rocks will baskets handle some small stones but work best in fine
jam in the spiders of a rotary hoe, keeping them from soils free of clods and residues.
turning properly. Plastic mulch pieces in the field will
also collect on spider wheels and require removal. Finger weeders
Dull spoons reduce the effectiveness of rotary hoeing.
Finger weeders cultivate around the stems of crop
plants that are sturdy enough to handle some contact.
Rubber-coated metal fingers provide some in-row

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weeding. These are connected to a lower set of metal moved in and out of the row. The Reigi weeder has
fingers work deeper in the ground and drive the unit PTO-driven rotating hubs with stiff tines that can be
at ground speed. These units can be used at just a few steered in and out of the row by an operator seated
miles per hour since they are in such close proximity behind the tractor.
to the plants. They require belly-mounting, and are
ideal for a G-type tractor. Wet clayey soils can stick Row-crop cultivators
to fingers and require frequent removal.
Row-crop cultivators consist of toolbars on a tractor-
Brush-hoe weeders pulled frame with various shanks and cultivation
implements attached so as to leave space for the crop
Brush-hoe weeders are European tools for close cul- rows to pass. These are much like field cultivators
tivation in narrow rows, not very common here, and except for the spacing of the shanks and the absence
expensive. Shields protect plants from bristle wheels of implements that completely cover the soil such as
that rotate independently between the rows, sweep- rolling baskets. Shields may be mounted on either side
ing weeds out of the soil. An operator sits behind the of the crop rows to protect them from soil and rock
rotating wheels and steers the unit to assure precision. movement during cultivation.

Sweeps, shovels, and knives Spyders, spring-hoes, and torsion weeders

Sweeps, shovels, and knives attach to the shanks Spyders, spring-hoes, and torsion weeders (made
(vertical pieces of metal that attach to the toolbar). by Bezzerides) are used alone or in combination for
Depending on their shape and orientation, these tools close between-row cultivation. The spyder wheel has
move soil in different ways as they are pulled between staggered curved teeth and is ground-driven on a ball-
crop rows. People are not consistent in how they name bearing hub. A pair of 12-inch spyders can be angled
these tools, so there can be some confusion. The shanks at 45 degrees toward or away from the row to either
can be clamped to different places on the toolbar(s) to pull soil away or throw it back. Aggressive and rapid
achieve an arrangement that provides the desired in- cultivation of a variety of row crops is possible, even
row coverage and extent of soil movement. Toolbars on stony soils. Torsion weeders are square stock metal
can be rear-mounted, belly-mounted (underneath a bars that can be mounted to follow the spyders, level-
high-clearance tractor), or with special attachments, ing the soil and flexing around the plants to clean up
front-mounted. spots missed by the spyders. Spring hoes are flat blades
16 inches long that are a bit more aggressive than the
Sweeps are wing-shaped, come in various sizes and torsion weeders, oscillating just below the soil surface.
angles, and are used to dig up larger weeds between
crop rows while throwing soil into the row. Big sweeps, Rolling cultivators
or duckfeet, are used to cultivate wheel tracks. Half-
sweeps have a wing on just one side, so the wingless- Rolling cultivators consist of gangs of heavy slicer
side can cut closer to the crop rows or plastic edges. tines that aggressively dig up weeds and pulverize soil
Shovels are narrower than sweeps, throw less soil, and between rows. Individual gang width ranges from 10
sometimes have 2 points that are reversible. Knives are to 16 inches depending on number of slicer tines, and
like angled shovels that are used to cut more horizon- units are available for one to 12 rows. Gangs can be
tally and closer to a crop. angled to hill up or throw soil into the row. Used with
fertilizer attachments, sidedressing is possible while
Wiggle-hoes cultivating. Rocks may jam in tines, and action may
be unduly aggressive for sandy soils.
Wiggle-hoes have shanks with half sweeps attached
that can be hand-steered around plants in a row by Hilling disks
an operator seated on the back of the tractor-pulled
unit. Close cultivation is possible, but extra labor Hilling disks are used to aggressively throw soil into
is required for the operator. Slow tractor speed and the rows of crops such as potatoes, leeks, sweet corn
wide crop spacing must be used to allow shanks to be and other crops that tolerate or benefit from being

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buried. Properly timed, this results in excellent in-row and are available with different BTU ratings. Liquid
weed control. burners can avoid ice up of gas lines. Burners may
be arranged in a row to flame the entire width of a bed,
Flame weeding including wheel, or they may be aimed at or between
the rows. They may be fixed to the unit, or adjustable.
Flame weeding is the killing of weeds with intense, Having individual burner shut-off valves and angle
directed heat, usually with a propane burner. Flame adjustments provides flexibility in how a flame weeder
weeding is used primarily to control small weeds in can be used.
a stale seedbed (without disturbing the soil). Because
weeds tend to emerge in flushes stimulated by till- Tractor speed when flaming is just a few mph. The
age, the initial emergence of weeds represents a major larger the weeds or the heavier the dew, the slower trac-
portion of the weed pressure in a given field, provided tor speed needs to be. Flaming is not intended to burn
subsequent tillage that brings new seeds to the surface the weeds, but to provide a short exposure to intense
is delayed or avoided. Prior to flaming, the soil is pre- heat which blanches the weeds, and they collapse
pared for planting in the normal fashion, then weeds and die within minutes or hours. Exceptions to this
are allowed, even encouraged, to emerge, so they can are grasses, with below-ground growing points, and
be killed with flame. After planting the crop, but just some succulent weeds like purslane, which can take
before it emerges, another flaming may be applied the heat. These weeds require hotter temperatures and/
to kill weeds that have emerged in the interim. With or subsequent cultivation to control.
slow-to-germinate crops, this final flame weeding is
most critical to success. The propane containers used on tractor-mounted
flamers must be motor fuel tanks, which are rather
Backpack or hand-held flamers are the simplest, least expensive, but intended for mobile use, unlike station-
expensive and safest method of flame weeding. A small ary propane canisters. The design of the system and
canister is carried by hand or in a backpack, while a the selection of valves and controls should be done in
single burner at the end of a wand is aimed at the area consultation with a propane professional. All tractor
to be flamed. The burner size, walking speed, and flame mounts, canister straps, and lines should be carefully
adjustment determine how much heat is applied to an examined before using the flamer. Besides the potential
area. This technique is popular for small plantings for explosion, concerns include: fires started in dry
of crops that will later be close-cultivated between grass or hedgerows, liability insurance and regulations.
the rows but will not tolerate soil being thrown into
the row. For example: carrot, lettuce, radish, spinach,
herbs, etc. Conclusion
Tractor-mounted flame weeders have been custom-
built by growers to flame multiple rows or wide beds. Effective organic weed control on vegetable farms is
The components include a tank (or several), valves, possible through the use of cultural practices, cultiva-
gas lines, regulators, pilot lights, and emergency shut- tion and flaming. Organic weed control practices can be
off. Gas may flow directly to individual burners, or it economically viable when utilized as part of a whole-
may be distributed through a manifold first. Burners farm management system that includes rigorous use
are specific for propane in the gas or the liquid phase of cover crops, crop rotation, and sanitation.

Weed Management 81
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References Chauncey Farm

119 Bridle Rd.
Antrim, NH 03440
Altieri, M. and M. Leibman, 1988. Weed-Crop Ecol- (603) 588-2857
ogy: Principles in Weed Management. Breton Publish-
ers, Boca Raton FL HWE Agricultural Technology (Einbock)
B.P. 1515
Colquhoun, J. and R. Bellinder. 1997. New Cultivation Embrun, ON K0A 1W0
Tools for Mechanical Weed Control in Vegetables. Canada
IPM Fact Sheet, Cornell Cooperative Extension, (613) 443-3386
Ithaca NY
Market Farm Implement
Bowman, G. (ed.) 1997. Steel in the Field: A Farmers 257 Fawn Hollow Rd.
Guide to Weed Management Tools. Northeast SARE Friedens, PA 15541
Program, UVM, Burlington VT (814) 443-1931

Grubinger, V.P. and M.J. Else. 1996. Vegetable Farm- Lely Corp.
ers and their Weed Control Equipment (video) Center P.O. Box 1060
for Sustainable Agriculture, UVM, Burlington VT Wilson, NC 27894
(252) 291-7050

Some sources of cultivation Univerco (Reigi weeder)

713 Route 219
equipment Napierville, Quebec J0J 1L0
Bartschi-Fobro LLC (800) 663-8423
P.O. Box 651 (450) 245-7152
Grand Haven, MI 49417
(616) 847-0300 Unverferth Manufacturing
P.O. Box 357
Bezzerides Bros., Inc Kalida, OH 45853
P.O. Box 211 (800) 322-6301
Orosi, CA 93647
(559) 528-3011 Wasco Hardfacing Co.
P.O. Box 2476
BDi Machinery Sales Co. Fresno, CA 93745
430 E. Main St. (559) 485-5860
Macunie, PA 18062
(800) 808-0454 Mention of brand name equipment, suppliers, and
prices is for information purposes only; no guarantee or
Buddingh Weeder Co. endorsement is intended nor is discrimination implied
7015 Hammond Ave. against those not mentioned.
Dutton, MI 49316
(616) 698-8613

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How to Get 99% Weed Control without

Brian Caldwell
Farm Education Coordinator
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York

In order to grow a vegetable crop to its full potential, Skipping one of these strategies will result in too many
weed control needs to be good, really good! weeds and a yield loss or the need for expensive hand
labor to get rid of them.

How good?
Preplant weed control
Often, dozens or hundreds of weed seeds per square
foot of vegetable field will sprout, ready to outcompete Preplant weed control starts with the right tools. The
your crop. Even if 90% of those seedlings are killed, strategies described here can be done with hand tools
that can leave several survivors per square foot-more and walking tractors, but for operations of over an acre,
than enough to hurt yields. 99% or more of emerging tractor-mounted equipment is worthwhile. Investing in
weeds must be prevented from competing with the good used equipment will quickly pay off in reduced
crop. This translates to less than one weed per square labor and better results. Use compatible, effective
foot (note: were not talking about a 99% clean equipment to prepare the soil and seed and cultivate the
field-there still might be thousands of weeds per acre, crop. Seedbeds must be level. Rows must be straight
just not enough to hurt yields). Some growers do this and exactly the right distance apart for the cultivator.
routinely, without herbicides and with minimal hand Bellymounted seeders and cultivators are best.
Plan crops, cover crops, and tillage to stifle weed out-
In order to consistently get this 99+% control, four breaks each year. If a long season heatloving crop or
strategies must be combined: cover crop is grown one year, follow it with an early
or late cool weather crop. Vary tillage times and crop
1. Preplant weed control types (long or short season, warm or cool weather
crops) from year to year, in addition to not repeating
2. Weed control between rows related crops in a field. Deep tillage at different times
during the season will strongly suppress perennial
3. Weed control within rows weeds like quackgrass, Canada thistle, and yellow nut-
sedge. If you have these weeds, plan to rotovate or plow
4. Reducing weed reproduction twice a season (followed by your crop or cover crop)

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until they are gone. After a few years, discing or field several cultivations are needed. I often hear growers
cultivating may be all the primary tillage you need. say, Its a mess now, but it was clean as a whistle 3
weeks ago. They should have cultivated at least once
Stale seedbed techniques can knock out your first 50 more, even though the weeds were barely visible.
75% or more of the weeds. The best nonchemical
approach for this is to prepare a fine, firmed seedbed 2 If weed pressure has been reduced 75% by stale seed-
or more weeks in advance. When its time to plant, go bed, and between row cultivation gets 80% of whats
over the seedbed using flaming or a shallow cultivation left, then we have 5% of the original weed pressure
with a basket weeder to kill the emerged weeds. Plant leftmostly right in the rows next to the crop. Were at
your crop right away, with no further soil disturbance. 95% weed control, close to our 99% goal.
Many fewer annual weeds will emerge to compete with
the crop. This method works better for crops that are
planted during warm weather (June or later), so that Weed control within rows
weeds have had a chance to germinate.

Weed control within the row is very tricky. For one

Weed control between the rows thing, research done by Dr. Chuck Mohler of Cornell
and myself showed that annual weeds may come up
23 times more thickly within the row. Why? Be-
Weed control between the rows is relatively easy. cause they do best on a wellfirmed seedbed, just like
Pictures of some common types of cultivators can be your crops. (Similarly, be sure not to leave packed soil
found in Steel in the Field, edited by Greg Bowman, caused by your tractor tires. Mount sweeps behind the
the best reference on mechanical weed control. If you rear tractor tires.) That inrow location is precisely
want to control weeds without chemicals, you need where weeds are hardest to kill and where they most
this book. You can order it at 8026560471 for $18. reduce your yield.

Growers on stonefree soils tend to prefer basket Broadcast cultivation with a flexible tine (tine
weeders, which allow cultivation very close to the tooth or finger) weeder or a rotary hoe solves
row and do an excellent job if weeds are less than 1 part of the problem for largeseeded crops that can
inch tall. For stonier soils or somewhat larger weeds, be planted deeply like corn, beans, peas, potatoes or
gangs of overlapping sweeps are also effective, but onion sets. The implements are pulled at high speed
they throw more soil and must be set further from the blindly right over the crop rows, scratching out the
row. Spyder toothed disks can be mounted next to newlysprouting weeds while going right over deeper
the row to get closer. Without throwing any toward the crop seeds or betterrooted crop seedlings. This is
row, they shear soil away, which is then thrown back usually done 45 days after the crop is planted, then a
by the following sweeps. week later, and perhaps once more. The crop shoots
get a bit beat up by the process, and a few are pulled
Cultivate early on a sunny day for best results. If you out of the ground, but yield is reduced only slightly
dont have an ideal cultivator, go over the rows twice or not at all. Most of the weeds within the rows are
(i.e. in both directions), to do a more complete job on killed, so the broadcast cultivation is quite worthwhile.
those weeds. But it must be done when the weeds are in the white
thread stagejust before emergenceto be effective.
If possible, cultivating a couple days after a good rain
is an effective strategy for reducing weeds and holding After the crop is too big to broadcast cultivate, the
moisture. The loosened surface soil may form a dust betweenrow cultivators are used. For the last one
mulch, which will hold moisture beneath, but which or two betweenrow cultivations, soil can usually be
will not be a good seedbed for new weeds. purposely thrown at the base of the crop (hilling),
smothering small weeds coming up in the row.
While cultivators kill existing weed sprouts, new seeds
are stirred up and will sprout after a rain. Thats why If we can kill 80% or more of the inrow weeds with

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broadcast cultivation and hilling, our 5% of the original the other hand, undersown strips can reduce mud and
weed pressure has been reduced to 1% or less. We have protect the soil during a wet harvest.
reached our 99% goal.
In addition to killing flushes of weeds before seeding
There are variations in this strategy for some crops. with the stale seedbed technique, the same idea can
Potatoes, for instance, are deeply hilled. If this is done be applied after earlymaturing crops. Till the crop in,
twice, good weed control is usually attained. Trans- wait for a flush of weeds, kill them, then plant your
planted crops like brassicas cannot be blind cultivated, cover crop. Youve gotten rid of another batch of weed
but they quickly grow to the point where they can take seedlings.
some hilling. The trickiest crops are root crops like
carrots, parsnips, beets, directseeded onions, or herbs Finally, avoid importing millions of weed seeds by not
like dill, cilantro, etc. They usually require some hand spreading manure from grainfed animals. Compost
weeding. Turnips and daikon are often seeded after such manure before use.
mid summer when weeds pressure is not so strong, so
hand weeding is light. A special trick can be done with
carrots and parsnips, which are slow to germinate. Just Mulching
before the crop comes up, but after the main flush of
weeds has germinated, the rows can be flamed. Weed
control is excellent when this is done right. If a small Mulching controls weeds both in and between the
pane of glass is placed over part of a carrot row, the rows. All transplanted crops and garlic are candidates
crop seeds under it will come up a day or two ahead for mulching.
of the uncovered rowsso the grower is alerted when
its time to flame. Garlic can be mulched immediately after planting with
organic materials like weedfree straw, hay, leaves, or
wood chips, if the soil is well drained. Annual weeds
Reducing weed reproduction are suppressed and these materials provide organic
matter and longterm nutrients to the soil. Mulching
with organic materials works well for other crops too,
What we are trying to accomplish here is to limit as long as they grow well in cool soil and the field is
yeartoyear weed pressure by reducing the soil weed free of perennial weeds. There is a labor cost in ap-
seedbank. This is a long term process. The key prac- plying these mulches, but Im convinced that growers
tice here is to till under the crop as soon as harvest can figure out reasonable ways to apply them if they
is finished. This reduces new weed seed production, want to. For instance, much time is saved by laying the
and also helps with disease and insect control. Seed a mulch down before the crop is transplanted (or before
cover crop at the same time. it comes up, as in the case of garlic). Highresidue
notill transplanters are being developed that may work
Some growers are able to send someone through the through organic mulch.
field late in the season to hand pull large maturing
weeds and get them out of the field-not a bad job if The other major mulching material is black or colored
weed control has been excellent. plastic. Weeds along the edge of the plastic can be a
headache. Covering the bare soil between the plastic
Cover crops can also be used in other ways to compete with weedfree organic materials is a good solution.
against weeds. At the final cultivation, they can be Moisture retention, soilborne disease reduction, and
undersown into the cash crop. The crop should be a dry picking lane are bonuses. Otherwise, rows can
far enough along that the cover crop will not compete be set far enough apart so that a narrow tractor with
heavily against it once it gets going. Slower estab- a section of springtooth harrow or other cultivation
lishing cover crops like red or sweet clover are better setup can be pulled through every two weeks or so.
choices than oats or ryegrass for this purpose. In dry Hoeing or flaming will have to be done along the plastic
years, even late interseeded cover crops will compete edges. Edge weeds that go to seed late in the season
against the cash crop, unless the field is irrigated. On can be a real drawback to the use of plastic mulch. If

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you use colored plastic mulches, make sure they are depending on row spacing and type of plastic.
able to fully shade out weeds. Some work well only
with herbicides. Varying intensities of weed control are needed for dif-
ferent crops, and much depends on crop mix and the
scale of the operation. A typical sweet corn crop might
How much does this cost? require two blind passes with a flexible tine weeder,
then two betweenrow cultivations with sweeps and
hilling discs (roughly $60160/acre, depending on
A rough estimate would be $3040 per equipment pass farm size). Carrots, which are worth a lot more per
per acre (including amortized, prorated equipment acre, might get stale seedbed prep, a delayed flaming
costs for tractor plus cultivator and flamer setups, just before emergence, three cultivations, and a hand
fuel, labor, etc., used on at least 10 acres per year). For weeding ($600/acre or higher).
large operations, this cost could perhaps be cut in half.
Hand weeding costs are likely to be at least $400/acre A crucial management issue that goes along with me-
(50+ hrs @ $8/hr). Organic mulching materials could chanical weed control is the need for getting the job
run on the order of $500/acre (clean straw5 tons/A done on time. If you do it with the right equipment,
@ $ 100/ton), plus considerable labor for spreading. at the right time, its easy. Otherwise, you may be in
Plastic mulch materials are perhaps $200/acre or more, for a tough time, or a lot of healthy weeds!

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Mulching for Weed Control and Organic Matter

Transcript of a presentation by:

Paul Arnold
Pleasant Valley Farm
Argyle, New York

We bought this land back in 1988 and put up the houses and market in the afternoon. Thursday is fieldwork,
and the barns that you see. I started in my fathers back Friday is pick all day and Saturday is two markets. So
yard for a couple of years just because I grew up in thats kind of a typical week for us. We try not to work
suburbia and I decided I wanted to farm and then went Sunday. Usually in the early spring we will be pushing
to play around in his back yard for a few years then to do everything. Like I say, to get things planted and
bought this place in 88. Bought land and then put up get things cultivated at the same time. It gets kind of
the house and all the barns you see and planted the pushing in June and May.
orchard and just got things up and running. I would
do a little work in the wintertime and then farmed in We grow about 35 different crops, small amounts of
the summer. Met my wife Sandy right after I bought each one, constant planting right through from early
the land, she knew she was going to marry a farmer February so we have crops from May 1st on. Usually
and I wanted to make sure that she really liked farming spinach and lettuce the first week in May, and rhubarb
before I married her. Since then we have had two kids, and asparagus. We grow a small amount of perennials.
they are 10 and 7 and they help quite a bit on the farm. A lot of our mix of vegetables is to have a consistent
Kim and Robert. When we started out I had my father amount through the whole year and that is how we
to help me and my step-mom and they helped me quite kind of control our income is to always have something
a bit. About three years ago my father passed on, but coming on because we all know it is a good year and
we have been able to keep the farm going because it bad year for something. With the just two days a week
was a threesome for a long time. It worked really well that we all have to do field work we have really had to
and that is how we got the buildings up and houses up be efficient at our cultivation and be efficient at trying
and everything else kind of going on this farm. to prevent weeds. This is why we got into mulching.
In Washington County we are a dairy county primar-
What we do is raise about six acres of vegetables now, ily but right around me there are not really any dairy
we probably have about ten acres that are available to farms. To haul manure or bring in stuff like that was
us and so some are kept in cover crop and rotation. difficult in the early years so we looked to what we
We sell at area farmers markets, four of them. So for had and one thing we did have around us a lot was hay
us a typical week starting from May 1 to November fields that were being unused. That became our source
is market on Monday afternoon so we are picking of building our soils. What we actually bought on this
Monday morning, market in the afternoon. Tuesday farm was a corn field. Probably continuous corn for
to do field work, Wednesday is pick in the morning 30 years. So we had a couple of years of cover crops

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and we started right in after getting some equipment in the best place you can. You dont want to put spring
putting on hay mulch trying to build up organic matter and fall crops in the lower areas.
because it was only a little over 2%. This is where we
kind of started. Here is a shot from the house showing all the diver-
sity we have little bits of a lot of different things.
We have a slope here going down. From here to the We kind of break it up into knowing what crops are
house is north and so we are kind of on a northeast going to be there all year and what crops are going
slope with good northwest protection of trees and this to be coming and going really quick like lettuce and
makes this ground very early. We have other fields and some of the ones that are there all year like tomatoes
a 120 acre farm next door that we rent. We have plenty and peppers.
of hay fields and ability to rotate. On top of growing
vegetables we have about an acre of fruit and one thing This is going back toward the house. This is our main
we set out to do to make sure is we always had fruit on field where we started and as we grew we did more
the table so we had a lot of different small fruits and and more acreage. We kind of started right from the
apples on top of that. Not too much of anything. We beginning trying to put down mulch and we tried dif-
hardly grow an acre of anything. ferent things. You can see right here we have zucchini
and cucumbers and we tried sawdust from a horse farm
One of my goals of getting into farming, and I was and found that it really tied up nitrogen bad. After a
pretty naive when I got into it, was the fact that I did year, when this broke down it made the best soil on
not know that farmers did not make a living at farm- the farm but meanwhile there was a lot of starvation
ing. I got told that quite a bit when I first got started for nitrogen. It held things down pretty well. There
and I told them this is what I am going to do and I am were a few escapees there but it made life a lot easier
going to make a living at farming. I am going to make putting down mulch because there was just that much
a living at farming because I wanted that lifestyle of less area that I had to cultivate.
staying home and raising food for my family and sell-
ing. Even though I was told by pretty much everybody Just a little diversity of a lot of different crops that
and I hate to say the Extension Service that it wouldnt we are growing, lettuce. This is where we are putting
work but I dont think they have the models at that time down mulch and after the mulch is turned under from
like they have now to show that it does work. This is the year before trying to grow lettuce through the
going on 15-16 years ago. So we set out to do it and summer. Looking for high organic matter for these
so far with the goals that I have it has worked very real high demand crops especially when it gets to be
well. We have been able to make a living at farming 90 degrees you are really happy it has a lot of organic
for 10 years. We have never worked outside the farm matter down. When we were putting a lot of mulch
and have been able to reach our goals of making this down we were doing a lot of it for fertility. We have
a good income. With being able to be so diversified gone on to now without a lot of extra hands, like my
and having an unlimited water supply, a good irriga- father, around we have gone into doing compost be-
tion system and good markets were we are we have cause it is a lot faster. We are constantly evolving and
been able to have a consistent income and not really if I come here another three years from now I might
have any of this roller coaster up and down. That has be doing something totally different again. I think that
been good for us. is one thing you always do is you are always evolving
and changing and finding better ways and using the
This is shot from across the valley because we are best use of your time and equipment that you have.
on the edge of the valley. The apple trees are grown Compost came around because we finally got a front-
where they are because there is quite a slope. We have end loader and we just had to buy a manure spreader
made conscious decisions as to where to plant stuff and also it became available around our area to get
and because we are up off the valley floor we really compost. Back when I first started we did not have a
stay away from the frost. What we have for soils is choice there wasnt anything else to get. There was no
up on top we have rocky silt looms and down below compost except for along long distance away. This is
the lower fields are sometimes a little heavier clay. It how we are holding our organic matter now.
makes rotation sometimes tough because you cant
always put it where you should rotate but you put it

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Lets talk a little bit about cultivation that we use. in the fields and bringing it in and laying it down. It
Because we are really tight spacing just because some- is kind of a whole farm approach. If you just looked
thing is older and not a new product this still worked a the economics of just putting down the grass mulch
very well for the first few years on the farm. Somebody and just left it at that you would probably say it is a
gave it to me and I put it to use and it did very well. It losing venture but the fact is if you look at the whole
is like anything else, I talked about even with tractor farm approach and you are trying to increase organic
cultivation, you cant buy one cultivator and expect it matter, trying to make the most of your soil on top of
to do everything so this works well as long as you are single and double cropping on close spacing, having
using it in combinations with other things. If you just that organic matter and rotating that around your farm
use this those few escapees are going to get by and you in these mulched areas you can build organic matter.
are just going to have a problem with one weed. A lot We have gone from I think it was like 2.1% when we
of these older tools work really well. This is a typical first got there and all these years we have never really
wheel hoe and it worked well for us for crops that are given that main field you have been seeing up there
straight up and down and with walk paths and wider a rest and we have been able to increase it to at least
areas where you can really go along quite quickly. A 4.5% now. Five years of mulching and a little bit of
lot of different attachments you can get down at the compost the last few years. Mulching you have to
bottom here. Wider ones. You can also get kind of a be able to look at that and say it is a good whole farm
duckbill one. approach not just a matter of what it is doing for you
at that moment. So we are using grass mulch and we
When we first got going a lot of our crops that we are also using straw mulch. We are buying in straw
were cultivating were on 12 inch centers. We were from a neighboring farm and this is something really
just packing stuff in. We did not have a lot of land. We important and I know people have gotten themselves
were land limited and we needed to get things in close, into trouble is that we work with the farmer and we
close spacing and so cultivation with these smaller ask him to cut the straw before it goes into pollen. He
tools were the most efficient thing. You do not need does that for us and we are paying a little extra for it
to start out with tractors right off the bat. Starting out but the reason is there is no seed in it. If you are getting
with these smaller tools like that push hoe I showed straw and if you are going to buy it for mulching and
you, the wheel hoe and that little push cultivator were they have already combined it there is plenty of seed
very effective up until five years ago for us and were a in it. There is a lot they can only get out so much. You
real time savings. I think you get to a certain size and can get yourself a real weed problem. With using the
time when all of a sudden priorities change a little and straw mulching it is really important to either raise it
you find you can change and add some new tools, some yourself and cut it at the right time or hire somebody
tractor mounted stuff when you finally can evolve to or get some farmer near by to do it for you.
own tractors that will do the job that you want it to do.
We do not have a picture of it but we depend mostly We mulch asparagus, thats how we keep the weeds
on your Farmall 200s or Super-Cs that are a little bit out of that. Its funny with asparagus you think that its
bigger than a cub or a little A that they sometimes a high value crop and its not. It barely breaks, what
show. We found that we can do two rows at once and we call a $10,000 an acre rule, something has to make
also with the Super-C you can get real wide spacing. at least $10,000 an acre although of course you know
We are doing four rows underneath our Super-C on 14 we barely grow an acre of anything. But the asparagus
inch centers. That is very efficient to be doing four rows just barely makes it over that. It seems like a really
underneath the tractor than to be doing three because high value crop, but its just a nice thing to have in
of the amount of rows you can get done within a time. May and June.
As we have evolved we are still using push hoes, we
are still using some tractor cultivation for crops that are We mulch raspberries and blueberries. I dont have
just there for a short time like beets, carrots, lettuce, a picture of the blueberries but we mulch them both
spinach and crops like that. What happens is we start with wood chips. There are a lot of businesses that go
getting into using mulching. Where we use mulching along and they are chopping where the power lines
is mostly the crops that are going to be there all year are going through so we get all of our wood chips for
tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. Areas like that. A lot free. And also if we have any shavings left over from
of it is grass mulching. We are cutting the grass out the chickens they go on there. But we will go ahead

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and cover this up with something that is going to stay

there a long time. We do this once every few years just
put down a lot of chips on this instead of putting hay Q: What kind of transplanter are you using?
down every year. These are the fall ones that we are
going to turn under and weve got the drip irrigation A: I dont use a transplanter, Im doing it all by hand.
on them. And to make them come in a little earlier we
put the row covers over the top of them. And so we can Q: How do you make the holes?
get Heritage raspberries coming in, in August.
A: What we have for prepping the soil is a five-foot
Some of the crops we are going to put out when we rototiller on the back of the tractor. And Im going
go out there are Swiss chard. We are using soil block along making the soil soft and I know where my rows
lots of times on the bigger seeded stuff like this. Stuff are going to be so if Im using that self unloading
like lettuce is usually going in as seedlings and these wagon Im very careful not to go where Im going to
grow really well on that. This is Swiss chard again and plant. I make one wheel track down the row where
parsley. This might have been that same year where its going to go and keep one out. Then Ill just wad it
we saw it when it was a little bigger. But that is what kind of in the middle and then from there just throw
it looks like after finishing planting it in and then we it to either side so it doesnt take but half a day or so
just have to harvest. Everything is clean after that you to cover all that ground. So if the ground is really soft
dont have to whack any of the dirt off of the parsley then I can easily just put my fingers right into it and
or weed it. You just go out there and grab a clump make the hole.
without getting weeds with it. There is it when it gets
bigger. It is easy to take care of that way. And you see
theres some smaller cucumbers that are coming on and
the late tomatoes coming on there. And the next year I Peppers sit there all year. Another great crop to put in.
might move this whole batch right to here and then do This is something that you have to watch for. Im not
something with more mulch. Ill just keep working it going to just show you all of the best things that happen
down the field to constantly be doing more. to us, Im going to show you some of the worst so we
can all learn here. When you have plastic over the top
Also I like to mulch the garlic in the fall and then in of straw or you put a row cover over top of the straw
the spring we add a lot more so that we dont have to this stuff is shiny and when the sun gets on it, it really
weed it. So that we just go in planting it, mulching it, heats up. It can produce a tremendous amount of heat.
in the spring adding a little more mulch and then just Probably if I put a row cover over this and didnt have
harvesting it. I really dont really have to do anything this it would be the same effect. It would burn all the
else with it. Again, it is another crop we just keep mov- plants right up. And if you put your hand in there you
ing around and then in July when its all out of there would probably burn your hand. It gets so hot. You
well be turning that under and probably putting in a cant just go out and put straw down, plant your zuc-
fall crop. Thats going to be tremendous ground after chinis and your cucumbers through and throw a row
a week or two of it breaking down. Any crop that you cover over it. If the sun gets on it, its going to burn
put in there is going to grow the best. We are planting everything up, underneath it. There is something with
late kale. the shininess, it doesnt do it with the hay mulch but it
will do it with the straw mulch. After we started notic-
Brussels sprouts are going to sit there all year long. ing what was going on here, and it took us a little while
We are going to harvest them sometime in October or to figure out what was going on, we thought we had a
November. Those are my lower fields right there and, problem underneath, but it worked out and these are
again, once I put down the mulch and I plant it, then I the peppers by late August. They filled in quite nicely.
dont have to go back in again. Its all set. And it just Again, weve got clean peppers, we just have to pick
kind of breaks down as you go along and it actually them, we dont have to wash them hardly. Its kind of
feeds a little bit of nitrogen down there and the soil is nice, there are no weeds in there, nothing. Again you
so much better for the next year for anything else you just send somebody out to pick all season long.
want to grow like beets that are heavy feeders.

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Here we are, I think this is annual bed strawberries hot they do not like that too much. The bad part of
going in. I believe, or its the matted row system but what you are running into with the straw, especially if
we are covering up here. This has already been done you are talking about cucumbers and other things like
before and we are adding more as we go. Weve got that, is the fact that if there is a light frost out there,
full irrigation so that kind of helps. That kind of gives this will not allow that heat from the ground in the fall
you what it looks like after throwing all of the mulch to keep your plants from frosting so much. These will
down. frost earlier. So you have to be much more diligent
with getting row covers on. Realize that if youve got
Here we are planting winter squash, the rows. All I mulch out there you are going to lose the plant faster.
am doing is putting down a string and somebody is Because it doesnt allow that heat from the ground to
dropping a plant every 18 inches or so. Pretty simple, come up and maybe save your plants when you are
and as I said you end up with nice clean winter squash getting really close to 32.
when you are done.
We came across something really interesting this
Some of the time what we have is these field houses spring, we ended up in our area being one of the very
that we do, you can see that I am putting it up in the few that had strawberries because of that late May
fall. Weve thrown down the mulch on it and I can frost. We went out and we were doing the annual
have it ready for the next year for the peppers. Well bed strawberries and we were doing row covers on
put this up and it will make sure that the ground stays them, we were doing triple row covers on them. They
unfrozen and we can start other things in here too or started flowering the first week in April and flowered
plant anything else Ive thought about planting, toma- right through until the end of May. We went out one
toes or something, early and again its no weeding. The evening around 8:00 or so and it was 41 degrees on our
ground stays warmer. There it is all finished. We move thermometer and we have a digital one so it is pretty
these around the field also. accurate and it was 41 and the row covers were start-
ing to freeze together. So most farmers probably did
Putting down straw mulch or its all hay mulch I believe not go out and do any row covering or frost irrigation
here and were putting down the stakes for tomatoes. that night till it got much lower but the damage was
Another nice crop to mulch, we dont have to have already long done if you waited much longer than
any diseases that splash up onto the leaves, like early we did. It was already starting to freeze so it is really
blight. Thats another good thing to not have to worry interesting that when you are talking about mulch or
about. Much more even with the irrigation. In other having something high up in the air like that when you
words it doesnt dry out and get wet and dry out and get that radiational cooling its occurring much earlier
get wet. So you dont have a lot of cracking when you than when you think. You cant wait for it to be 36 or
have some rain. 35 and start up that irrigation. Depending on the sky.

Q: So do you drip irrigate that? So they get a little bigger. We have found that now
on our ground we cannot plant tomatoes up on these
A: No, we do overhead irrigation because right next to fields were we have been doing this mulch for years
it could be lettuce growing right here and I cant stop because now the ground is so rich that we have toma-
the water from splashing onto the tomatoes. But that toes that come up over the top and then come all of
is why we dont have to worry so much about having the way down. These are all indeterminate types and
diseases splash up because of the mulch being on top. the ground has gotten too rich for that because we are
It kind of eliminates that. doing all of this mulching. We have to put it on some
really poor ground. So this has really helped the soil,
Q: Doesnt the mulch keep the ground too cool and but it has also changed a few things that we have done.
slow the plants down?
This is strawberries, this is the matted row system. We
A: Not during the summer. Most plants like it warm dont do matted row anymore but if people are still
on top and they like their feet cool. So if their feet get doing it Ill show you what we did with that. When we

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plant the strawberries, we will put down the mulch first made and this is where I am going to plant the annual
or put it down afterward because you can kind of drop strawberries through. Im going to cover the whole
it on between the plants. Well put mulch down after area, someone is laying them out and Im going through
planting the plants and then we dont have to weed this and just planting them as we are going along. So on
thing the whole rest of the season. The main question each side of that hill weve got annual bed strawberries
people usually ask is Well, how do the runners get going in. We just plant about 3,000 plants there. Got
set down in the mulch? It seems like they are far off some free help there. After planting them we put the
of the ground. Never had a problem. It is always too row covers on them for the fall. They look like that
many runners that set and if a few dont then fine but come May first. They are flowering pretty good. Again
this makes matters a whole lot easier than having to no weeds, clean fruit, with the annual bed system they
weed that whole year. And then in about the first week are all gone by the first of July. But again we turn this
in November we just go ahead and go in and rototill under and made a lot better soil. There is also no gray
the rows right down and get it down to where it is the mold with this system. Ive never encountered any gray
width that you want. Well have straw put on for the mold and that makes it a lot easier. They also pick about
strawberries and then pull the straw off of the walk three times faster because you can see them better.
paths and then put the row cover on to finish it off un-
til they are blooming. So we are adding more organic Its a nice system. Everything is kind of open. There
matter. This is another thing that even though we had is not one touching another one. They all have got a
matted row we moved it every year. It kind of confused ring of strawberries around each one. So the picking
the insects, we did not build up the insect population goes fast.
but we were also using it, again, as the whole farm
approach. We knew this was a reason to keep adding I also went ahead and weve got a lot of flowers around
more organic matter to our soil. Adding all this nice the house and I am mulching that so that we can enjoy
straw. And then they would look like this when they the flowers without having to weed them.
got up and going. Moving them every year we really
didnt come up with any weeds. And putting down a lot Some of the benefits are that we had some investment
of the straw kept everything clean and again we didnt in buying the equipment, but when we first started out
have problems with dirty fruit or with weeds. So they from one year to the next the only thing that we did
came out kind of nice. We got away from this system different was to put mulch down in the fall, turned it
because of the gray mold problem and because they under in the spring and then started planting our crops
took up space on the farm all year long and didnt re- through it. That first few years, when we started farm-
ally pay us back anything. When you are a small farm ing because the soil did so much better, we found we
and you are trying to make use of all your space that jumped $10,000 just the first year in gross income. So
seemed like kind of a waste to me. When you have one that more than paid for all of the equipment that we
spot that is costing you money and not giving you back to buy and the time spent putting it on. So there was
anything. So we went to the annual bed system. So we immediate payback on healthier crops. It really does
are preparing ground now in the fall, around the first so much better. It feeds the soil incredibly and some
week in September. organisms that are there. It brings more of a balance
to the soil and everything that happens with it. What
And this is that tractor again and you can just barely also happened was, because this was a cornfield for
see it. Im sorry for that. Its got two disks here and it is years and years. I think that it was continuous corn
basically like hilling potatoes. Im building a hill right for 30 years. The dairy farmer had a program of so
here and thats where Im going to plant the strawber- many ton of 15-15-15 every year and never took soil
ries. Its making two hills at a time. Then we are going tests. We had an enormous amount of potassium and
along and again it is the first week of September and phosphorus. We found that every year when we were
the grass seeds are not out of the grass. They usually building up that soil and getting more soil organisms
fall down during the season and some hold on a little in there and a lot more freeing up of a lot of the nu-
later so the first week of September it is not clean out trients that are there, that our soil tests started going
there. I cant just go out and get grass mulch and put up and up and up tremendously. Were kind of off the
it down the first week. Im putting down straw mulch, charts for phosphorus and potassium because of what
just shaking it out. You can see the hills that I have he put on more than 17 years ago. We have yet to use

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it up, probably it is going to be there a whole lifetime it is cutting standing grass. Whether its the straw or
and we will never have to put down phosphorous or grass and it will be green. You definitely dont want to
potassium. go out there in the early morning when there is a lot of
dew on there because it will just plug up the machine.
As I said we are going into more compost now with soil
management. Even then as we are using it Im thinking Q: Do you cut it and let it dry before you put it
about going back to more grass mulch because right down?
now if I can control and hold my organic matter at
4-5% or where some of them are a little closer to 6% A: No, not with the grass especially. If its heavy in
we can maybe go back to a little more grass mulching clover, maybe heavy in alfalfa I do go out and do some
and do more with rotation of that rather than buying with alfalfa. That is not so bad when it gets a little
in compost, where you can bring in weed seeds, you older but if you try to do it there is so much nitrogen
can have problems with phosphorus levels. We are in there and there is so much water to it that it kind of
already in trouble with our phosphorus levels. Just one turns sort of slimy and melts away real fast. Its gone
less thing that we have to do. within a month.

We dont use black plastic on our farm because we Q: Do you add any nutrients to your hay mulch
didnt want to deal with getting rid of it. There are fields?
some things like melons that do much better with
black plastic. We choose still not to use it, we still A: This is always the thing with organic farmers;
put our melons down on the mulch. Our melons are we are kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Whether or
the last melons to come in for the year. The rest of not Im hauling in compost or doing the hay mulch
the farmers, they get them all early in late July and is that we are always taking from something else and
August. Ours come in September and that is fine with putting it on our most valuable fields. Right now we
us because they are all out of them. It really isnt a have gotten into, just this past year; we are going to
big problem for us. start fertilizing the fields. We have taken soil tests and
we are bringing in organic fertilizers and spreading it
We dont do this winter time or fall. We dont throw on to build the soils back up. We could see a definite
mulch down on the fields anymore. We dont have the drop over these years in the production of these fields
help and the time. But when you are first getting go- because we dont have the ability to bring in manure
ing that really helps the organic matter really quickly and spread it on the fields. So we are going just the
and helps your plant health. Now we can go though fertilizer route at this point. Just putting on a 5-3-4 on
spinach and lettuce and grow it right through the sum- it. Our lowest amount is phosphorus and potassium on
mer because of our organic levels and the amount of these fields. In the early years the important thing was
nutrients it released. to get the vegetables paying, start paying ourselves,
and now that we have got some extra money, we are
starting to go back to the hay fields and giving them
Questions and answers their due. You have to maintain them or else they go
downhill real quick over the years.

Any questions? Q: Do you get 100% weed suppression with the

Q: How do you control the pH? Do you check that?
A: I wouldnt say that you are going to get like you
A: pH was 6.4 when we started and it is still 6.4. It have alluded to. You are never going to get a 100%
has never changed in 16 years. Not at all. weed suppression with it. For us it is probably 90%. So
the little 10% for us that comes through, because it is
Q: Are you harvesting the mulch when fresh? either breaking down really fast or there is a spot that
someone let a transplant go through, a weed came up
A: Oh! As in green, yes. You are going out and you through because there was exposed light. But it is so
are chopping it, that is what this flail chopper is doing minuscule the fact that when you are going down and

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harvesting something, you can just pull the weed as lot of moisture, a lot of nice stuff that they can chew
you go along as long as it hasnt gone to seed you can on, a nice habitat. It took a year or two after we really
just kind of drop it. But for the most part 90% weed started with that, to start to get some control of the
reduction is it. Basically with our weed population, I slugs. One was we used some ducks because if you put
think you heard me say we dont allow weeds to go to out grain and put out slugs, a dish of each, they will
seed. If I grow carrots, lets say, and I seed them and a go for the slugs first. They love them. The other thing
week later I start to see them coming up through. Two that happens is that there is a little black beetle. He is
weeks later you might see in a row 150 feet long or a about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch and you see him scurrying
bed of four 150 feet long you might be able to count around your farm. That is a lot of their main diet. To eat
10 weeds in that area. What you mainly see, and Ill slug eggs. So all of a sudden with one predator, and it
say any other type of weed but you will mainly see wasnt like we were trying to go out and kill these slugs
for use is purslane because that is what is left is weeds because there is nothing you can do about them if they
like that, those three weeds galinsoga, purslane and are there, is that these black beetles became abundant.
chickweed. If you dont have them, be diligent that if They just went along and brought the balance back in,
you see one to get rid of it on your farm or just make but we suffered for a year or two of having quite a few
sure you are not buying it in. We started getting a slugs. Now nothing is really out of kilter at all with
little galinsoga and chickweed because we brought what we are doing.
in somebodys compost and it was in the potting soil
mix. Wherever we planted it that one year weve got With molds and stuff like that I dont think it makes any
little bits of it. We keep a bucket hanging around, so difference. When you are stepping and walking through
that when we see those two weeds, it doesnt matter it you are not seeing this puff of mold. I want to make
what you are doing, you drop it, go get the bucket and sure that is said. Very little bit is mold. It is either in
you get rid of that one weed and put it in the bucket the breakdown period right close to the surface, or it
and then we just take it off of the farm. So we are is dry on the very top.
trying to control the two weeds. Of course trying to
control purslane is bad enough. It comes up and within Q: How are you doing your direct seeded crops?
a week or two or three weeks it can start to set seed.
If it is big enough no matter how hot it is, if you go A: Well we are not using any mulch, of course, be-
along with your push hoe and cut it off it will live long cause that crop goes in and out. For us we are using an
enough to produce seed and it does not need to go to Earth-Way precision seeder, the plastic one. We have
flower. Thats how we killed ourselves with the fact used the Planet Jr. and we have used the other type and
that, that one weed does not have to go to flower. It they both have their strengths and weaknesses. When
can produce, within its bud, viable seed. Only when you are doing a lot of different things, a lot of crops that
it feels kind of comfortable and hanging out during day, and you are putting four types of carrots and three
the heat of the summer, will you see a yellow flower types of beets and stuff like that, you will find that the
on it. But for the most part it will never flower and Planet Jr. can get pretty cumbersome. With changing
it produces it. We thought in the fall one year when plates and changing shoes we found with the Earth
we had a bunch of it, Oh, we are OK because it is not Way, even though, it seems like such a crude piece of
going to go to seed; and then we realized way too late machinery its so much faster. You can cut your seeding
that it doesnt need to flower. The adaptation of this time down from 3 to 4 hours with a Planet Jr. down
weed is so tremendous. to 45 minutes with an Earth Way. So it really makes
a difference. Just having to buy in some fertilizers,
Q: Do you have any problems with molds or insects when you are thinking about how you are going to get
under the mulch? your farm up and going and trying to keep your farm
together, using just what you have on your farm for
A: No. The only thing it can do when you say insects. your own fertility. When you have hay available, and
What we had the first few years, because we had quite you can use it then you know you are not importing a
an imbalance on the farm of not having organic mat- lot of stuff that may hurt you eventually with weeds.
ter and then all of a sudden having a lot of organic Some day somebody is going to say something about
matter free flowing around the place, is that you can compost, that its got something in it. Using your own
start to have a problem with slugs. Because there is a mulch and hay can really keep you out of that one

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problem in your area. The longer you are in business stale seedbed and get things ahead.
the more these little things pop up.
We may try a little bit of flaming this year. It was inter-
Q: Have you ever tried using sawdust as a mulch? esting just talking about the mulch and using flaming.
Because we were thinking about the few escapees that
A: We only used the sawdust mulch once. That was get into asparagus and that is a big thing is the peren-
going to be it because it just took too long for it to break nial type weeds. The fall annuals and perennials that
down in a situation where you are changing crops rap- will get in there. It seems they have a long taproot
idly. In the end it really made nice soil. In the interim, that can get down and below where other ones cant.
within a year period, you couldnt grow anything in We were just kicking that around. Maybe it will be a
it because it was just too much nitrogen uptake by it. fire hazard.
You can get by using a little soybean meal as a nitro-
gen source. That has 7% nitrogen. That works very Q: Can you talk a little bit about your crop analy-
nice if you need to put a little bit of nitrogen around sis. How you set what is making you money and
the Swiss chard after it has been there a long time to whats not.
add a little nitrogen. Or if you are turning under this
mulch and you are going to plant. For us we would A: For us, we keep just two kinds of records. We keep
turn under mulch in the spring in the early years and records to know how much we are making on a per
then transplant lettuce right into it. It was a lot of gobs acre basis on each crop so that we can judge whether
of mulch that hadnt broken down completely during or not we need to do something with that crop. Do we
the winter. By throwing down a little bit of soybean need to put it closer or not grow it or charge more or
meal on it makes it so that there isnt that starvation something else. We need to know if it is making us
of nitrogen for the lettuce plants while the mulch is money because if we are trying to make enough money
breaking down the rest of the way. on six acres of land than as I have said you have to
produce $10,000 to $20,000 an acre to really make
I found the list here of what we do, about 15 crops that any money with this. So we are doing our $10,000 an
we mulch. Rhubarb, asparagus, Swiss chard, garlic, acre rule which probably should be at least $15,000 at
winter squash, cukes, melons, eggplant, tomatoes, this point. The records we are keeping tell how much
Brussels sprouts, raspberries, blueberries, parsley, pep- space things are taking up. So if Im putting in four
pers and strawberries. We also mulch our basil that we rows of carrots every week for so many weeks I will
keep all year long. Its much cleaner. Thats the crops know how much square footage that is taking up. We
we are working with when we mulch. will add up the square footage and because we are
keeping records on our yield, every time when we are
Q: How deep are you tilling with your roto-tiller? getting ready for market things are getting weighed I
can tell you how many pounds of carrots we produce
A: We are probably going down a good six inches with in a year. Then from there we know how much we sell
it. We do it in the spring or sometime during the year the pound for and we can figure out about how much
we try to get around with our neighbors big 4-wheel carrots are making us on a per acre basis. Or how much
drive tractor. We put chisel plows on it and if we have they have made us on a square foot. Whatever way you
got ground that is open or in the early spring we will want to figure it out it is called extrapolation. So we
hit it with chisels to make sure that we dont end up are keeping that record. That takes two records, yield
with plow pans. You know the kind that you get with records and how much space things are taking up. Then
rototillers or really with a lot of different tillage you we keep records on how long it is taking us to harvest
can end up with that. Thats about the depth. Very few something and how long did it take us to harvest 400
times we will use it just to go along the surface. But pounds of carrots. We dont do that every day or every
for us, we dont do any stale seed bedding because other day. It might take four crops or five crops that
most of our weeds are very much under control and I season and do a good analysis of those over several
guess its an organizational factor. We always seem to weeks. When its good or when its worse depending
be running behind so you are going out there and just on how things are coming out of the ground. So you get
tilling the soil and planting right off the bat. Theres a a good average. We keep an average of that and thats
few people out there that are more organized that can how we make decisions on whether or not we need to

Weed Management 95
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invest in a certain piece of equipment that will make our meeting, you are going to hear a lot more about
harvesting faster or better. That also gives us an idea NEON over the years, North East Organic Network.
of how much these crops are worth and helps us all in We participated in that and it was interesting talking
pricing. Between how much it is costing us to harvest because we had a room full of sizes of growers. Some
and how much it is worth to have that crop sit on that small, some big and what was interesting, we were all
land are the only two things that we keep track of. We accomplished farmers, been in it for a long time and
have no idea how much it costs us to raise a carrot. the small growers that were down in my scale, ten
There doesnt seem to be any reason to know. As you acres or less, were very intensive. A lot of them, cover
know when you are doing 35 crops that would be an crops, some of them didnt use any. Some of us were
enormous record keeping. To know I push hoed down just in the winter rye mode because we were just using
a row of carrots and then went on to do the beets and every bit of land intensively all of the time. So we are
then went on Its just too much record keeping. always having these guilt feelings that we should be
Thats basically how we are making decisions on the using a lot more cover crops. We never seem to have
farm as to what our pricing is going to be and what time to put them in or the land that you can kind of put
equipment we are going to buy and how to make things stuff on. What we came to realize is that the guys who
more efficient for our employees or what we are doing were bigger, cover cropping was everything for them.
or how we are selling a crop. Whether we decide to They couldnt afford to buy compost or work things as
drop a crop. So the last thing you want to do is drop intensively to make that soil rich. The were working
crops because then you ruin your diversity. If lettuce more on the fact of half their land was in cover crops
does terrible next year it really wont show up on the building organic matter to turn under for crops to come
radar screen. Something else will probably be doing because that was the way they had to deal with it. So
terrific. So keeping a lot of crops out there makes the they were using cover crops more judiciously. Lots
big difference. of different kinds, different spots they were sticking
them in. So it basically took off the guilt feelings of us
Doing things that control your overhead is also impor- small farmers. The fact that none of us were doing it. I
tant. Irrigation for us, we decided to go electric. Electric think its something not to get too worried about, cover
pumps, and valves. So we can irrigate at the drop of a cropping when you are really small because you are
hat. It takes ten minutes to irrigate. I just go in, throw using that land really intensively. I am getting into this
some valves and throw on a switch and Im irrigating. mulching and adding organic matter. Thats what you
Irrigating for me cost $0.48 an hour. So I can irrigate are really trying to doyou are trying to protect the
all night for ten hours for $4.80. Thats a lot less for soil from erosion, trying to keep your nutrients there
most people than what it costs to run a tractor for an and trying to improve your soil while you are using
hour. So I have a tendency to irrigate more and when it. I think mulching kind of covers that area for me.
the crops really need it because it is easy to irrigate I dont have to feel quite so guilty about not having
and also it doesnt cost me much. So if I want to do all of this nice perfect cover cropping that everyone
some frost irrigation on some raspberries, I only have really focuses on.
to sell two half-pints of raspberries to pay for the whole
nights irrigation in October. Thats the record keeping Q: Do you think mulching would work on a larger
that we keep. So we know whether or not what we are scale?
doing is worth while.
A: I think for a lot of crops anything is possible at
Q: Are you doing any cover cropping? whatever scale you want to have it at. It just depends
on if you have a lot of soil that doesnt have a lot of
A: What we are doing now for cover cropping is organic matter and it is performing poorly you find
doing winter rye. We are re-seeding a lot of these ways to try and build that soil up and if you really
crops; you saw how much stuff we have at the end of build it with cover crops you are going to be in it for
the season. So crops are growing all the way to the long term. If you are looking to get it into production
end. And with that, winter rye is something that we next year then trying to find some straw mulch thats
get on and thats about the only cover crop that we good and trying to add organic matter, its going to
work a lot with. For the most part we do very little of make you money. For us all of a sudden jumping
anything else. What was very interesting last year in $10,000 from one year to the next was quite a jump.

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On a larger scale you are just looking at that much you will not have a problem with that. You are also
more. There is the cost there but that mulch is there looking at the other benefits of mulching. The fact that
and the benefits are there for a few years. It isnt like it is basically sheet composting because you are build-
the cost is all gone after one year. I think it can really ing your worm population. You are basically feeding
make a difference. your worms. By putting down all this mulch you are
feeding your worms. Obviously thats going to make
Q: Is it ever a problem for the mulch to get moldy? more biological activity and you are going to end up
with a better soil.
A: Its okay if it does get a little moldy. If youre put-
ting grass mulch over the top of strawberries, some Its also the weed management. If Im planting a
people will think, Well, Ive got grass mulch Ill throw long term crop thats going to be there. Like toma-
it on top of strawberries for the winter. Its going to toes and cucumbers and zucchini and stuff. Im not
mat down, turn slimy and get moldy, thats the worse going to have to weed that the rest of the season. We
for it. But just covering the ground, getting a little are putting it down between six and seven inches
moldy is okay. Its not really something that is going sometimes more than that. Because as your soil gets
to hurt your crop at all. more biologically active, we find that lots of times
we cant even make it to the end of the season even
Q: Are you talking about lawn clippings? at six or seven inches thick. Because there are more
worms, more bacteria its breaking down at a faster
A: Im talking about hay fields. This is something else rate. Also it depends on what mulch youre using. If
you need to learn. If you are going to go out and do that. you are using alfalfa or clovers, it looks great but it
When does it have seed and when does it not? What can burn up fast. There is not a lot of substance to
we are doing is that we are cutting hay out in the fields it like a thick stemmed grass would be. Like we use
right up to the point of the fact that it is going to pollen. canary grass. That will stay around longer. Straw will
Different varieties go to pollen at different times. Like stay around longer. You will have less problems at
this past year we had this farm nearby, we seeded it to the end of the season with spots coming through and
reed canary grass which gets a lot more bulk matter having some weeds.
out there and goes to seed much later. I got a bigger
window of opportunity of getting it. You are looking You are obviously controlling the water that is there.
for, obviously, the most mass out there. You are look- Some of the downsides are, if its really wet it will
ing for hay fields that when you are going across them stay really wet in the spring. Sometimes it doesnt
you are getting what you want out of it. Not, like you help with trying to get it broken down or trying to get
say with grass clippings where its going to take you a it turned under at times. It stays sometimes too wet
long time. Because were talking, Id probably do more for the crops.
like a third of an acre or a half an acre of mulching.
If you are putting all of the pieces together and added
it up. With that movement around on the six acres, it
is every few years that we are really getting a lot of All right, As I have said we sell at the farmers market.
mulch down on an area. We are using it in other ways You can see all the different array of things that we
too, just getting it down. What Ive noticed for years, are doing a lot of different crops, a lot of different op-
is after dealing with the grass mulch is that the soil is portunities to put mulch down. This is the last day in
actually a lot more alive and a lot more activity than November. This is all the different crops that we have
when you are just putting down compost. Compost is that we are selling in the week before Thanksgiving.
something thats already finished. The mulch needs We are zone four. We are not exactly the warmest spot
to break down. That causes a lot of biological activity but we have learned season extension on top of this.
within the soil. It makes your soil much more alive This is one of our best days because this is the Saturday
at that point. This is kind of anecdotal, I realize, but before Thanksgiving. That is the biggest sale day of
it seemed like the plants grew much better that way the year, the last day for us. Pretty amazing.
as opposed to just putting down compost. Any mulch
you are going to hold or add will also not bring down So theres compost. Im getting it down. We bought
as much phosphorus or potassium as the compost and the manure spreader. This one place, H & D, that we

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got this from. They actually make spreaders that have wouldnt produce on the soil with the organic matter
different types of beaters on the back. One is made for that was there. In the fall we would just go along and
compost, spreading it more evenly. So that is why we just cover the whole ground. No cover cropping just put
went with this style. We had to get a new one because down on the ground. This was just adding tremendous
if you bought old ones they are usually just death amounts of organic matter and in the spring we would
worn out by the time somebody traded it in. Cultiva- turn it under.
tors. Wheel hoe. There I am push hoeing. This is the
technique of going up and down these rows at a real There we are going down. We are actually putting it
close spacing. This is where we went to some use of in between a field house we are going to put up. This
the tractor, using the basket weeders that they were was quite a few years ago but now weve got a self-
showing. I can go up and down this and this will take unloading wagon. Im covering for winter squash,
me probably 25 minutes or more to go up and down that is what Im doing. Im making an area for winter
these rows and if I did it with the tractor it would take squash to go down so I dont have to weed it and it just
somewhere in the neighborhood of about four minutes makes for clean fruit and everything else that comes
to go up and down twice. Like we showed, going up along with it. Im just kind of going along, blobbing
one side and then going to the other. it out, very quick and then somebody is going along
and just spreading them the last little bit. This is where
This tractor is what we use for a lot of cultivation. Its we are putting in some late tomatoes here in this area.
got the mid-mount and weve got these regular culti- Putting it right next to Swiss chard and parsley. This
vators on the front, on the mid. After these potatoes was put in real early. This was put in the beginning of
go in. This is a potato planter. On the back Ill carry May. There is obviously no hay out there to get.
a Leily tine weeder. That will be the first thing I go
over it with after the potatoes are planted is the Leily This is where we use some straw. There are times when
tine weeder. Ill go over that at least twice. On the I cannot get out there and get hay, like in the middle of
second time I might be cultivating at the same time summer if I need it. Or in the very early spring there
Im using the Leily tine weeder. That works. Then isnt anything out there to chop. This is where we keep
for finishing, Im just using the cultivators. So I can straw in the barn in bales that we have bought and we
put hillers on the front of these. We can do a lot of will put it down and then plant through it. You dont
cultivation that way. want to go ahead and plant this and then try to put the
straw. It just doesnt work. Youve got to put the straw
This is our equipment that is used for getting straw down first and then plant right through it. This works
or hay off the fields. This is called a flail chopper. It very well. Now I dont have to weed this the rest of
was used by the dairy industry for a number of years the year. Its much easier on the plants. Its cooler.
and then, like anything else, they kind of moved on. All plants like to be warm on top with cool roots. The
So these things are a dime a dozen. I think we paid next year Im going to have better ground than when
$400 for it. I dont know how many years ago, twelve, I started. This is what the whole farm plan is. The fact
thirteen, fourteen years ago and Ive probably only put of just trying to improve the ground along with doing
$100 into it. Its basically, for every foot width this is some intensive planting along the way.
it takes nine horsepower. So ours is six-foot so it takes
fifty-four horsepower. This thing puts out fifty-three This is buying straw from somebody. Bringing it up.
so when this is trying to take on too much its slowing One thing we did try one year just to see if it would
the tractor down and I know Im not going to hurt this work is a bedding chopper that you can get from a
thing by putting an 80 horse power tractor on it and dairy farm. They do it in the barn and it is for chopping
just kind of ram-rodding through. This is a real good their bedding. You throw a bale right down in there
stand of rye that we are putting in and that will really and it spreads it out. It nicely chops it down, because
fill the wagon quickly. sometimes working with long pieces of straw is a
little difficult. We just had somebody driving along
This is how we did it in the early years, with just a with the tractor and bales of straw sitting on top and
wagon like that. This is how we built organic matter up went ahead with somebody just throwing it out. By
really quickly in the first few years. So we could grow the time we got it all done it looked pretty good and
spinach or lettuce because we couldnt grow it even. It we were able to plant through it. Weve never tried

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that again. This was a borrowed piece of equipment we go in and put straw on it, mulch it. In 14 years that
just to see if it worked. I think these things are quite we have had it we have never weeded it once or done
a few thousand dollars. So we havent gotten into the anything other than put straw on it, put row cover on it.
practice of doing it all the time. But it just gives you We put row cover on it the first of April. Whenever the
ideas if you had that thought, gee this is one way to snow is gone, take it off first of May when we want it
get the bales out there and chopped up nice. It did put to start selling. This was just taken off you can see the
it out nice and even. dandelions are just flowering. So this is around the first
of May and this is what it looks like. As you know Im
from zone four. So its pretty rich ground there with
having straw for all those years and with the row covers
Q: Did the chopped straw control weeds better you can have full size rhubarb right off the bat. And
than the regular straw? again we just go in, we are harvesting it and when we
are done harvesting it at the end of May its done. We
A: Didnt make any difference. They both control walk away. There is no weeding to be done. Theres
weeds it was just the fact that planting through it was nothing. So it makes it kind of nice with rhubarb. When
a lot easier. you say, well when you mulch is it really worth it to
do it? You are sometimes picking crops that you can
Q: Why wouldnt you use the chopped straw all make a lot of money on. This little rhubarb patch is
the time? on 0.0186 of an acre. When you bring it right down
to what it is. We sold about 774 lbs., this is back in
A: It would be the cost of the machine and the time. 1999, with a total value of, Im trying to think if we
I cant say I figured out how long it would have taken sold it for $1.50 a pound or whatever. If somebody
me to put it down by hand. You know just break the has got a quick calculator. $1,161.00 came out of this
bales out and spread it as opposed to doing this. I re- little patch. If you work that out to what it is worth on
ally didnt make a cost comparison with that. I knew an acre basis, because this is where a lot of our crops
the machine was more than we really wanted to spend if they are worth doing, a lot of this mulch bed is ex-
for that little bit that we do with it. trapolating out, that if we had an acres worth than this
is how much it is worth. This is what we base all of our
Q: What kind of transplanter did you use to plant crops on is the fact that we know the yield because we
through that. are keeping records and we are also keeping track of
how much we are planting all the time so that we can
A: We do all of our plantings by hand. We dont add up at the end of the year about how much square
have any transplanter. Whether its on bare ground or footage everything took. Then we know the yield and
through that. We are just lining stuff out and putting we know how much we sold it for. So you can kind of
it through. We dont own a transplanter. Im basically extrapolate out using that system. Some people do it
the person who transplants. on square footage. We just happen to do it on acreage
basis because in the world of dairy farms and every-
body else, they are doing it on a per acre basis. But this
little thing is worth $62,000 an acre. This little rhubarb
This is a little section. We are on a steep slope and patch. If we are doing not too much work with it and
we basically wanted anything that was already on we can spread that a few bales of straw on it. Ten or
this steeper slope to be mulched or in grass. So that is 15 bales of straw on it really thickly is well worth the
why you see that the orchard is here. We started out, money spent on it. Thats where a lot of our crops are
from somebodys garden they gave us rhubarb. So we well over the $10,000 or $20,000 an acre and with that
started splitting it and splitting it and splitting it and you can start to make a living at this. But this is how
after a few years we ended up with 72 rhubarb plants we keep the overhead down and be able to bring some
on a three by three grid here. So every spring or late fall money home. After finding this out it is well worth
putting down a few bales of straw on it.

Weed Management 99
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Bio-Extensive Approach to Market Gardening

Anne and Eric Nordell
Beech Grove Farm
Beech Grove, Pennsylvania

Part One: rewards for taking time to develop this system were
twofold: we could now afford to grow staple, storage
A Strategy for WeedFree Onions items, such as onions, carrots and potatoes; and we
could devote more time during the busiest months in
Reprinted from Organic Farms, Folks and the market garden to high value perishables and spe-
Foods, the quarterly newsletter of the Northeast cialty items for restaurant sales and farmers market.
Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc.,
an organization dedicated to the creation of a We begin weed control for onions a full year in ad-
sustainable regional food system which is eco- vance of planting. This fallow year usually includes
logically sound and economically viable. For two winter cover crops sandwiching a bare fallow
permission to reproduce more copies contact midsummer. We have tailored this cover crop/fallow
NOFA-NY at (518) 534-5495. Please include sequence to take advantage of the growingconditions
this message in any reprints. on our farm and the life cycle of the weeds we needed
to control.
Onions can be a real challenge in terms of weed con-
trol because of their slow growth and sparse canopy. The cover crop/fallow sequence leads off with rye es-
Given that our original goals for the farm included tablished after the previous cash crop in the rotation. If
remaining debt free, keeping the market garden a circumstances prevent us from planting rye in the fall,
twopersonoperation, and relying on the internal then we plant oats the following spring. We manage
resources of the farm as much as possible, we needed these small grain covers by clipping them repeatedly
a wayto reduce weed pressure in onions that relied before they shoot to head. Mowing them at this time
more on management than offfarm inputs and that encourages them to tiller and regrow, creating the
carefully distributed our labor over the course of the mulch effect you see in figure 1. This shot captures
growing season. We also decided to lean heavily on the the second clipping of rye at the end of May 1992.
most available resource close at hand, namely the land. Cutandcomeagain cover crop management prevents
spring weeds, such as the mustard family, from set-
It took us five years to develop the following system, ting seed and makes incorporation of the cover crop
which has kept in-therow hand weeding of onions well easier a than letting the rye grow to its full height of
below 15 hours an acre, regardless of the weather. The four to five feet.

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We plow the first cover crop down after it has put on fields. The composting process kills most weed seeds
the bulk of its biomass but before summer weeds have in the manure and bedding, and the resulting stable soil
had a chance to set seed. For rye, in our climate, that amendment does not seem to stimulate weed growth in
means after the third clipping at the end of June; for the fields like fresh manures or fastacting fertilizers.
oats, after the second clipping in midJuly. Incorporat- Applying the compost during the fallow year gives it
ing these carbonaceous residues during the biologically more time to break down before early planted cash
active summer months gives them plenty of time to crops, saves a step in spring, and enhances the root and
break down without robbing nitrogen from the next top growth of the second soil improving cover crop in
springs crop of onions. This mayseem farfetched, this fallow sequence leading up to onions.
but we think the soil has less need to grow weeds
when we use these high carbon cover crops and their The bare fallow ends the first or second week of Au-
aggressive root systems to repair the damage done to gust when we seed down the field to the second cover
soil structure by the preceding cultivated crop. crop. This planting date takes advantage of the fact that
most annual weeds which germinate now are likely to
More to the point, plowing deeply at this time of year frost kill before setting seed here in the mountains of
targets perennial weeds at the weakest point in their northcentral Pennsylvania. Our preference of a cover
life cycle. Likewise, harrowing the ground every two crop before onions is Canadian field peas because they
to three weeks during the following bare fallow period fix nitrogen, put on a lot of top growth in fall and tend
brings the roots and rhizomes of perennial weeds to die back over winter.
the surface to dry in the sun while preventing annual
weeds from getting established at a time of year when The big advantage of winterkilled cover crops is that
they are likely to grow quickly and run to seed. As a they are so easy to incorporate first thing in spring,
result of religiously fallowing our fields every other making timely planting of onions more dependable.
year this way, quackgrass no longer exists in the Thanks to winterkilled field peas, we got the 1993 crop
market garden and broadleaf weeds like pigweed and in the ground in plenty of time despite receiving two
lambs-quarter are rare visitors. In fact, in recent years inches of rain every week that spring.
we have been able to reduce the bare fallow period
to as little as two to three weeks without sacrificing In terms of weed control, an easily incorporated cover
weed control. crop allows us to restrict tillage to just the top two to
three inches of the soil. For example, in figure 2, taken
However, the transition from very manageable to mini- the last week of April 1993, you can see that discing the
mal weed pressure was only realized when we began winterkilled field peas lightly is not as likely to bring
composting the horse manure we use to fertilize the

Figure 1 Figure 2
Clipping small grain covers repeatedly makes Discing winter-killed field peas lightly in spring brings up
incorporation easier fewer weed seeds

Weed Management 101

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new weed seeds to the surface as plowing or rotovat-

ing deeply. Keeping the residues near the surface also
helps with erosion and moisture control.

Figure 3 shows the 1993 onion crop the middle of

June. We had yet to do any intherow hand weeding
at this time even though the extremely wet conditions
extended through May. We usually do plan on cultivat-
ing onions three or four times. But because we have
been able to reduce weed pressure during the previous
fallow year, we target cultivation more for moisture
control than weed control. That means getting into the
fields as soon as possible after a heavy rain to break
Figure 3
the crust and create a mulch of loose soil around the Cultivating three or four times is done mainly for
plants to slow evaporation. moisture control

Figure 4 shows the onion crop three hot, rainless weeks

later. We spent a total of six hours hand weeding this
halfacre field by the time harvest was complete the
middle of August. By hand weeding, we mean simply
walking the field and pulling those few weeds that
threaten to go to seednot a rescue effort to save the
crop. Nor is this an attempt to completely clean the
field of weeds. Those weeds that manifest themselves
later in July or August, such as blownin dandelions,
volunteer clover and a few smartweed, we plan on
plowing out after harvest when preparing the field for
seeding the winter cover crop and starting the fallow
cycle over again.

Keep in mind that a single fallow year is not likely to Figure 4

work miracles. And that the types and timing of cover A half-acre field of onions with only six hours of hand
crops to get this kind of control will depend on your weeding
climate, soil and weeds. For example, we can well
imagine that the bare fallow period between two winter
cover crops might be excessively long in a warmer
climate than ours, causing unnecessary damage to maturely before the chickweed had a chance to reseed.
soil structure. By the same token, the life cycle and We planted a cover of quickgrowing buckwheat the
growth habits of winter weeds might require a very first of June to avoid an extended bare fallow period,
different cover crop/fallow sequence than the one we and followed the buckwheat with the usual fall cover
have described for controlling weeks like quackgrass, of winter killed field peas. Both years, this outwitted
landcrest, pigweed and lambs-quarter. the chickweed.

We learned this firsthand the past two years when To be truthful, some of our time is tied up managing
we saw chickweed creeping into the field slated for the cover crops and that needs to be figured into the
onion production. Based on past experience with labor equation. As we see it, the total hours devoted
isolated patches of this intruder, we were afraid our to cover crop management are a small fraction of the
usual sequence might proliferate rather than control time spend handhoeing an otherwise weedy crop of
chickweeds since it sets seed well ahead of the normal onions. Besides, we find the fieldwork involved is a
bare fallow period and is too low growing to control by welcome balance to all the stoop labor that goes with
mowing. So we plowed down the first cover crop pre- market gardening. Of more practical importance, this

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integrated approach to weed management allows us to structure for the next years heavy feeding cash
spread the weed control effort over the course of the crops of
growing season to suit our schedule rather than letting
the weeds set the pace. 2. LATE planted mixed vegetables, such as squash,
celery, tomatoes, and corn.
While many growers may feel they cannot afford to
idle productive land for weed control alone, bear in 3. To the right, winter hardy rye, seeded after the
mind that the cover crops in the fallow fields serve previous years LATE planted cash crop, has been
many purposes. We count on cover crops to help re- plowed down to begin the bare fallow period. We
store fertility, structure and moisture holding capacity count on the summer fallow, in conjunction with
after cultivated cash crops. And we depend on them the cover crops, to create weed-free conditions for
to minimize erosion, interrupt the cycles of insects the next years crop of.
and disease and attract beneficials. The beauty of the
fallow years is that it gives us the opportunity to use 4. EARLY planted onions to the far right. To start
the cover crops to their fullest potential, in this way the rotation over again, we seed the clover right
increasing biodiversity on the farm. into-or immediately after-these early cash crops
so the clover is well established before winter.

Part Two: By the time we plow down the sweet clover the next
July, almost a full year later, the tap roots have tilled
A Whole Farm Overview and fiberized the soil much deeper than plow depth or
the root zone of most market garden crops. If we can
Reprinted from OEFFA News, which is pub- use the cover crops to improve soil structure, then the
lished bimonthly as part of the educational weeds, which often come in to perform this important
mission of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm role, have less reason to grow.
Association, a nonprofit organization for farm-
ers, gardeners, and citizens interested in eco- The four-year rotation then repeats itself three times
logical agriculture and creating a sustainable over the twelve-field market garden. We simply sub-
alternative food system.

A Strategy for Weed-Free Onions (part one) de-

scribes the cover crop sequence of rye/bare fallow/ Sweet clover EARLY onions
winter-killed peas we use in the fallow year before Summer fallow
EARLY planted cash crops like onions, spring spin-
ach, lettuce and snap peas. In the fallow year before
LATE planted cash crops like tomatoes, squash, main
crop potatoes, or fall greens, we employ a cover crop
sequence of clover/bare fallow/rye and vetch. Alter-
nating the cash crops between those planted EARLY
and LATE sets in motion these two distinct cover crop
sequences which help to keep weeds off balance and
adds more diversity to the overall farm system.

The four-field photo (figure 5) shows how the cover

crop sequences and cash crop rotation work together.
For instance, in this shot taken around the fourth of
July in 1991 you see:

1. A cover crop of yellow sweet clover in the fallow LATE-planted mixed vegetables
field to the left, fixing nitrogen and building soil Figure 5
Four-field crop rotation

Weed Management 103

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stitute different cash crops into the EARLY and LATE mind, deer control, marketing, and animal-powered
slots as shown in figure 6 (lower half). Even the depth composting. Tapes are available for $10 (which in-
of tillage can be rotated to the benefit of the crops and cludes postage) from Anne and Eric Nordell, RD 1,
discouragement of the weeds. Box 205, Trout Run, PA 17771.

Of course, the details of the rotation have changed over

the years as we adapt to the changes in the climate,
marketplace and insect pressure. The principle we
keep in mind as we fine tune the system is simply to
rotate the types and timing of cover crops in the fallow
fields to create the best conditions and control for the
cash crop to follow. In this way we have been able to
maintain our original objective of substituting land for
off-farm inputs and pain labor. Rotating the half-acre strips between cash crops and
fallow lands is the key to our two-prong weed-control
This land-extensive, or bio-extensive, approach to strategy
market gardening is much easier to visualize in the Following half of the market garden each year allows us
slide presentation we had videotaped at the 1996 Penn- to utilize the bare fallow period midsummer to reduce
sylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Con- the weed seed bank in the soil and to realize the full soil
ference. The 52-minute video also includes segments structuring potential of the cover crops so that weeds have
on designing the market garden with work horses in less need to fill this important role.

Four-year rotation shown in figure 5 (page 99)

SPRING rye and rye lettuce clover rye & rye onions clover rye & oats herbs clover
vetch peas vetch vetch berries & herbs
spinach flowers
potatoes celery
clover kale clover fall
oats & rye & squash oats & rye & coles clover & rye &
peas vetch peas vetch spinach oats & mulch vetch
FALL rye rye lettuce peas

CROPS cash fallow cash fallow cash fallow cash fallow cash fallow cash fallow
crop crop crop crop crop crop

BY TYPE root leaf leaf & root leaf leaf &

fruit flower
HARVEST late early late early late early
TILLAGE shallow shallow shallow shallow shallow shallow

deep deep deep deep deep deep

COMPOST 1. light application (5 tons/acre) in fallow year before root and early crops
2. light applications sheet composted with rye and vetch cover crop 6 weeks before late, heavy feeding crops
3. light application topdressed on leguminous cover crops

Figure 6
Rotation of cash crops, cover crops, tillage, and compost applications to enhance weed control, moisture
preservation, and soil tilth.

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A Few Long Furrows on Horsedrawn Tillage

Eric Nordell
Beech Grove Farm
Beech Grove, Pennsylvania

Photos by Anne Nordell

Beech Grove Farm
Beech Grove, Pennsylvania

Illustration by Edward H. Ochsner II

Skim plow Skim plow rye and vetch before late crops
A well sodded cover crop is necessary to provide suction Raw organic matter breaks down quickly near the soil
for such shallow plowing and to maintain soil structure and surface into homegrown starter fertilizer for the heavy
capillary action throughout the growing season. feeding cash crops to follow.

First printed in Small Farmers Journal, Vol. Our third year here the spring winds blew hot and dry,
17 No. 2 sucking moisture out of the loose topsoil to plow depth.
Seeding carrots into six inches of dust was a disaster.
When we settled in northern Pennsylvania 10 years Even under less severe conditions we noticed the silty
ago, we tilled in the conventional manner of the area, soil on our exposed hilltop site dried to the depth it had
plowing deep with the moldboard plow, repeatedly har- been tilled in as little as a week or two without rain,
rowing with the spring tooth or disc, then rolling with then crusted after the first downpour.
the cultipacker. The result was a deep, loose seedbed
of finely pulverized soil. Under ideal conditions, crops Enough humidity remained in the topsoil to germinate
seemed to thrive, but under less than ideal conditions large seeded field crops, like corn or oats, which could
this seedbed had a lot to be desired. quickly put their roots down to moist ground beneath,

Weed Management 105

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but small seeded root crops and succulent transplants sure that we took notice! They claimed the cornstalks
really suffered. Without irrigation, we needed to find broke down faster when worked into the soil surface,
some way to hold precious moisture near the soil reducing erosion and improving tilth. Well, we just had
surface where shallow rooted market crops did most to put this idea to the test in the market garden. With
of their growing. some good humored help from friends near and far,
we had some fun rigging up miniaturized versions of
More typically, these mountain soils stayed wet and offset discs, chisel plows and field cultivators suitable
cool. Deep plowed cover crops and manures decom- for a lightweight team.
posed slowly, if at all. After a damp, cold spring, it
was not unusual to dig up raw manure or pieces of The machines may not have looked like much, but
still-green rye as late as the end of June. We kind of the results in the fields were impressive. Cover crops
suspected these pickled animal and green manures and manures decayed quickly when tilled into the soil
may have contributed to incidences of uneven and surface close to the warmth of the sun and the air above.
unbalanced plant growth those first years. Discovering This sort of sheet composting led to more uniform and
mushrooms sprouted above buried chunks of horse disease resistant crop growth. And the farm was now
manure reinforced in our minds the idea that what mushroomfree.
happens below ground often expresses itself above
ground as well. Since surface tillage did not disrupt the soil life like
deep plowing, weed growth became more predictable.
Weed growth seemed to follow the same pattern. Instead of a delayed reaction, annuals germinated
We found the clean look of deep plowed fields to be readily after surface tilling, making preplant culti-
deceiving. Many perennial weeds just seemed to be vation a very effective technique. As for shallowly
transplanted by the plow granted, upside down only undercut perennials, they simply dried and died in
to raise their ugly heads a few weeks later. More to the sun.
the point, we noticed a sort of delayed reaction with
annual weeds. It almost appeared as if their seeds Additionally, the ground rarely dried deeper than the
would not germinate until the soil life in the inverted shallowly disturbed soil. In fact, the firm earth below
sod had a chance to regroup and eat their fill of raw maintained capillary action much better than plowed
and rotting organic matter. Inconveniently, that meant ground, drawing subsoil moisture to the surface where
weeds came on at the same time the crop did. Preplant an inch or two mulch of loose topsoil slowed evapora-
cultivation for weed control was recreational at best. tion. Where it might take two or more inches of rain
As if this delayed reaction was not perplexing enough, to thoroughly rewet deep plowed ground often only
plowing brought up a whole new batch of weed seeds a few tenths of an inch moistened surface tilled soil
from down deep, so we never really knew what sort adequately for seeding or transplanting market crops.
of weeds to expect. Cover crop residues decaying on the surface not only
helped to hold moisture, but fiberized our silty soil
A final concern was conventional tillage did not seem so it did not wash or crust as badly after heavy rains.
like a good match for our lightweight team. We may
have set some speed-plowing records those first years Last but not least, the mares approved of this new
with the Standardbreds, but soft and sassy after a long technique. Spring tillage was now much easier for
winters rest it almost seemed like deep plowing was these soft and spirited horses. Followup passes with
more than their minds, if not bodies, could bear. One the harrow on relatively firm ground were much kinder
solution was to work our way up to a somewhat heavier on man and beast than walking in deep plowed ground.
and steadier team of crossbreds. That change only Indeed, surface tillage seemed like a much better way
avoided what we thought the Standardbred mares were to condition the horses, both psychologically and
trying to tell us: Does it really make sense to greet the physically, for the rest of the growing season.
soil first thing in the spring with the most disruptive
and toughest tillage of the year? Pleased with our new tools, we intended to use them
all the time. We just barely scratched the surface of
When we saw our neighbors park their two bottom the farm before planting cash crops, before seeding
plow and hitch nine head to an offset disc you can be down cover crops, and before the summer fallow.

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In short, we surface tilled whenever and wherever before winter.

we could.
Secondly, we had learned that vigorous, winterhardy
In a few years time, some disadvantages to this single- covers, such as a mix of rye and hairy vetch, required
minded approach began to become clear. To kill and significantly more time to kill and decompose in the
incorporate well-established cover crops, like clover spring than winterkilled cover crops. It just made
sod or August seeded rye, required repeated trips with sense to use rye and vetch before later planted cash
our lightweight two-horse equipment. Sometimes it crops like tomatoes, celery and fall coles. Rye turned
seemed that in an effort to improve the soil through out to be the only cover crop tough enough to establish
surface tillage, instead, we were wearing it out. In a wet after these late harvested cash crops.
spring, successfully knocking back these covers was
nearly impossible, at least to do so in a timely fashion The trick to making this second crop sequence work
before early planted cash crops. Likewise, weeds and was finding an appropriate and efficient way to in-
cover crops during the fallow required many passes corporate a live cover crop in the spring. We did not
with the harrow, disc and field cultivator at a time of want to return to deep plowing given the problems it
year when we were busy enough with the demands caused with our soil and crops, but trying to work up
of cultivating, picking, packing and marketing veg a well-sodded cover crop of rye and vetch with our
etables and herbs. And all of that nice mulchy material lightweight two horse chisel was a joke. So we tried
on the surface protecting the soil during heavy rains a compromise approach and plowed as shallowly as
often splashed into the cash crops themselves, making we could set the old Leroy walking plow to run. With
washing lettuce and spinach quite a chore. a little experience, we discovered we could turn a
furrow just two to three inches deep. We called this
Concentrating nutrients and organic matter near the skim plowing as the plow just peeled the sod right
surface with these new tools may not have been such over, leaving the cover crop residues near the surface
a bad idea in wet years, but crops seemed to suffer and the coarsest portion of the root mass intact below.
doubly in drought conditions as their roots worked
their way downward, leaving the dry nutrient zone in We were really pleased with the results. First of all,
search for water. At the same time, that nutrient rich undercutting the cover crop so close to the surface was
mulch at the surface encouraged weeds to germinate sure and sudden death for rye, vetch and volunteer
and take hold. Perhaps most surprising of all, after weeds. Secondly, the horses walked along without
three years of surface tilling some fields became both a hint of hesitation or even breaking a sweat. Most
excessively well drained and firm. importantly, skim plowed cover crops and manures
decomposed quickly at this warm, aerobic and well-
We were not willing to give up on surface tillage alto- protected depth into homegrown starter fertilizer
gether, but these observations certainly made us think placed at just the right level for the heavy feeding cash
you can do too much of a good thing. That thought crops to follow. Lastly, a pass or two with the spring
then led us to the idea that the benefits of rotating crops tooth harrow brought up a good deal of skim plowed
might apply to tillage as well. Why not rotate tillage top growth and coarse root mass to the surface to help
techniques according to the needs of the crops, soil, hold and fiberize the soil.
and seasons of the year?
Wow, were we both surprised and encouraged to read
Practical considerations more or less showed us the this past year of two others advocating skim plow-
way. First off, surface tillage in the spring had proved ing under certain circumstances. We were just naive
to be fool proof and effective after winter killed cover enough to think we were the only ones to stumble on
crops such as oats and Canadian field peas. Planted late this technique and crazy enough to actually pursue it.
summer, these spring annuals died back at the onset of In the Fall 1992 Small Farmers Journal, British horse
winter making incorporation and seedbed preparation farmer Jeff Peterson writes:
a snap with just a disc and a harrow before the earliest
planted market crops, like spinach, onions and peas. As What I really like about the moldboard,
most of these cash crops were also harvested early in pulled by horses, is one can bring it down to a
the season, a cover crop of clover could be established fine art and make it a very tidy job, after enough

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practice. It is possible to plow very shallow, 3 1. Surface tilled oats and peas early cash
(7.5 cm) or maybe even less. When I plough I crops clover
like the organic matter as near to the surface as
possible and tidily turned over 2. Skim plowed rye and vetch late cash
crops rye
And from Michael Josts Field Advisory File in the
Summer 1992 Biodynamics come these comments It did not take us long to realize that we could piece
on improving the sandy soils on Greg and Marley these two crop sequences together by way of the sum-
Niewendorps Belgianpowered farm: mer fallow into the full blown crop rotation illustrated
in the chart (see figure 6, page 100). We were amazed to
A remark about tilling the soil and good see how a simple notion like rotating tillage techniques
stewardship: There is an advantage of shallow had brought so much more diversity and complexity
turning (e.g. 2) of thin layers of soil. Better in to the whole farm.
two steps than in one. Timing: 23 weeks apart,
then sow. Plow should not move layers that are One question remained. How to incorporate full term
not enlivened. The old fashioned horse plow has cover crops before the summer fallow? Chiselling,
the advantage that it can indeed be adjusted in discing and field cultivating had proved too time-
such a way that it removes only very thin slices consuming with tools suited for a team. Skim plowing
of soil could be difficult if the ground turned hard and dry.
And such shallow tillage did not solve the problem of
Whether or not skim plowing holds up to the test of how to deepen the topsoil to create a larger zone of
time, we think it is exciting and important that farm- moisture and fertility for shallow rooted market crops
ers are putting old tools to new purposes, adapting to draw on in times of drought. It finally dawned on us
low horsepower implements to the needs of the land, that this might be the appropriate place to plow deeply.
and proving that new and expensive equipment is not
necessary for conscientious soil management. We can usually count on these mountain soils to warm
up and dry out by the summer solstice. Deep plowing
Here are a few things we learned the hard way about at this time would not be as likely to pickle organic
skim plowing: It is essential to work with a well-sodded matter, cause compaction or fail to kill perennial weeds
cover crop for at least two reasons. First off, without as turning wet, cold soil in the spring. Also, there would
deep tillage we are relying on the undisturbed and ex- be plenty of time during the summer fallow to set back
tensive root system beneath the skim plowed layer to a new crop of plowed up annual weeds.
maintain soil structure and capillary action throughout
the growing season. In fact, the results seemed much If we were going to plow deeply, we decided we should
better than after deep plowing. Secondly, a strong sod is plow as conscientiously as we could. So we plowed
absolutely necessary to create suction for such shallow the way Raymond Smoker showed us. Raymond not
plowing. Likewise, a good share and landside are even only taught us how to work horses, but also taught us
more important for skim plowing than conventional the love of working horses, a gift for which we will
deep plowing. be forever grateful.

We would not recommend this unorthodox form of Raymond warned that this method of plowing might
plowing for rocky, compacted or unimproved land. not win many ribbons at a plowing contest, but that
Or for beginner teamsters. With the plow planted so it was the way the walking plow was intended to be
lightly in the soil, it seems to have a little more life of used. He simply removed the jointer from the plow
its own and may require, at least at first, faster reflexes. and set the clevis to cut a fairly narrow (1012) and
To be sure, we are using Leroy in a way for which he deep (68) furrow, laying the furrow slice on its side
was never intended. rather than flipping it all the way over. Plowed in this
fashion, manures, cover crop residues and the aerobic
Thanks to skim plowing, we now had two reliable crop portion of the soil were not completely buried, but
sequences based on two types of tillage: distributed vertically in the good earth. Raymond also
pointed out that furrows laid on edge allowed moisture,

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Skim plowing (left) and vertical furrow plowing (right)

Plowing depth matches biological activity of the soil and conditioning of the horses.

warmth and air to penetrate the soil easily for quick best features of conventional moldboard and chisel
and proper decomposition of raw organic matter. And plowing. Like conventional moldboard plowing, the
he recommended setting the teeth of the harrow deeper walking plow adjusted in this manner provided quick
with each pass, bringing crop residues to the surface and effective weed control while mixing stratified
to speed decomposition and slow erosion. layers of organic matter, minerals and acidity. Like
chiselling, vertical furrow plowing loosened the ground
Although Raymond likes nothing better than walking deeply without burying all the organic matter and the
barefoot behind the horses, he made it clear that this live portion of the soil. At any rate, it seemed the crops
style of plowing was not limited to the walking plow. grew better in the following year.
It was possible with sulky plows, gang plows and
tractor plows, just so long as the moldboards were not Those Standardbred mares were right! Depth of tillage
too wide. For example, a trailer plow with four 12 ought to reflect the natural procession of the seasons,
bottoms would work just fine, but a three bottom plow from surface tillage in the spring to deep plowing in
with 16 shares, although turning the same amount the summer months. Although plowing in the heat of
of land, would not lay the furrow on edge unless the the summer can be hard work for horses, the team,
plows were set excessively deep. Choice of ground already toughened by a few months of fieldwork,
speed and moldboard design would also influence the took it in stride. The soil also seemed ready, with the
roll of the furrow. earthworms and other soil life now active throughout
the whole plow layer, and the cover crop roots so much
We found vertical furrow plowing to be an ideal way thicker and deeper than in the spring. Looking from the
to start the summer fallow because it combined the plow handles, it appeared that the conditioning of the

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soil followed closely the conditioning of the horses.

For more information on the summer fallow, hog

composted manure and our neighbors offset disc,
please see:

The Summer Fallow, Summer, 1991, Small

Farmers Journal

Work Hogs and Horse Manure, Spring, 1991,

Small Farmers Journal

Alternative Horsedrawn Tillage, Spring, 1987, Vertical furrow plow, cover crop of clover in fallow year
Small Farmers Journal before late crops

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Insect and
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Impacts of Soil Quality on Disease and Insect

Resistance in Plants
Anusuya Rangarajan
Dept. of Horticulture
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY

Organic farmers have long claimed that, on their farms, type). These findings suggest that trying to predict a
insect and disease pressure is less than on conventional suppressive soil is nearly impossible, and that focusing
farms. They believe their emphasis on good soil man- on any one trait does not appreciate the complexity
agement and soil quality results in improved plant of the interactions between soils, microorganisms
health and resistance to infection or infestation. Soil and plants.
quality includes those biological, chemical and physi-
cal traits that enhance the ability of a soil to support We know that plants can respond to their environ-
healthy plant growth (among other things). While there ment and adapt to some stressful conditions, such as
is little conclusive scientific data about the relationship moisture stress or low light levels. Recently, research
between soil quality and pest suppression, there are has found that some of these plant responses are quite
several plant and soil interactions may contribute to instantaneous and suggest that plants are much more
these phenomena. active in adapting and responding to the environment
than previously believed. Some of these rapid respons-
Different soil biological, chemical and physical traits es affect crop susceptibility to pests. These responses
have been associated with disease suppression. Many are induced by cues from the environment and some of
researchers have tried to identify biological indicators these cues are based upon root interactions with soils
for soil health and disease suppression (van Bruggen and soil microorganisms. To understand how soils
and Semenov, 2000). However, many of these mea- affect crop susceptibility to pests, we must consider
surements are sensitive to the environment or short- some these different plant responses and evaluate how
term management effects, minimizing their usefulness. they may be optimized to reduce plant losses (Figure
Other researchers have found that soil physical and 1, page 114). This discussion will:
chemical characteristics can also influence disease
levels, including organic matter quality and quantity, a. review some of the strategies of pest resistance in
pH, calcium, iron, micronutrients, compaction, soil plants,
texture, structure, parent material and the predominate
clay type, and soil moisture (Hoper and Alabouvette, b. soil and rhizosphere effects on this plant resistance,
1996). The relative importance of any trait varied by and
the specific disease, and no generalizations could be
made for all diseases. In many cases, trying to manipu- c. suggest some strategies to maintain or enhance
late these traits within a soil is impossible (e.g. clay pest suppression in vegetable systems.

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Plant Health

Plant Growth Environment

Host Plant Resistance

Induced Resistance

Plant Nutrients and

Rooting Media Disease Suppressive Soil
and Amendments

Rhizosphere Organisms
Figure 1
Factors affecting plant resistance in insect and disease pests.

Plant resistance to pests not expressing those genes. Common examples of host
plant resistance can be found in vegetable varieties
that have disease resistance, e.g. tomatoes with resis-
Plants may escape damage by pests by associating tance to verticillium, fusarium and nematodes. These
with other species, developing in times with reduced physical or chemical attributes make the plant less
pest pressure, having some tolerance to the herbivore appealing or even toxic to pests. Some physical traits
or confronting the pest with physical or chemical that confer host plant resistance include hairiness of
challenges. These physical and chemical challenges leaves (trichomes) or toughness (lignification) of plant
to pests include host plant resistance and systemic or parts (e.g. stem solidness in wheat). Hairiness of leaves
induced resistance. Both of these modes of resistance can reduce ability of sucking insects to land and feed
can be affected by plant growth and soil conditions. on leaves, and lignification can restrict insect boring
into stems or restrict fungal spread into plant tissue.
Host Plant Resistance Chemical factors include secondary plant compounds
or phytochemicals, such as alkaloids, glucosinolates,
Host Plant Resistance occurs from the expression of terpenoids or polyphenols. These chemicals are the
plant genes that result in physical or chemical attributes primary mode of host plant resistance and often have
that interfere with the ability of an herbivore (insect, very specific effects on pests.
disease or animal) to utilize a plant compared to a plant

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In some cases, these phytochemicals associated with then viruses. For example, anthracnose inoculation of
host plant resistance are always present in the plant. In cucumbers provides systemic protection against the
other cases, they are affected by factors, such as plant same and other fungi, some viruses, wilt fungi and
age, previous plant injury, planting arrangement and bacteria, but not spider mites or beet armyworm. In cot-
crop competition, light levels, ultraviolet radiation, and ton: spider mites on cotyledons protect against mites,
soil nutrients. Fully expanded, maximally photosynthe- caterpillars, thrips, whiteflies, true bugs and vascular
sizing leaves have the highest carbon, nitrogen and wa- wilt fungi, but not bacterial blight. However, induced
ter, and are likely best for herbivores. When leaves age resistance will not protect against very aggressive
and develop toughness, they often are less nutritious to pathogens such as Sclerotina white mold, late blight
pests. Previous plant injury by one plant-feeding insect or some post-harvest rots.
(herbivore) can lead to resistance to other herbivores.
Infection by a plant pathogen can change suitability For induced resistance, the plant first must be stimu-
of a host to other pathogens or herbivores for better or lated or challenged (given the shot). The challenge
worse. Planting arrangement and density can increase may be via an organism (e.g. insect, fungi or bacteria
or decrease plant stress and subsequent susceptibility that are pathogenic or nonpathogenic) or a specific
by affecting plant health and vigor. chemical (Figure 2, page 116). Induced resistance
has been elicited by several different organisms, in-
An example of host plant resistance in vegetables is cluding pathogens, insects, plant-growth-promoting
the effect of cucurbitacin in cucurbit leaves on the rhizobacteria (see below), composts and compost
feeding by cucumber beetle and two-spotted mite. extracts. Several chemicals shown to induce resistance
This compound is a powerful feeding stimulant for include salicylic acid, potassium phosphate, bicarbon-
cucumber beetle but confers resistance to mites. The ate, oxalic acid (spinach or rhubarb extracts), some
level of cucurbitacin varies among species and even new chemicals such as Actigard, Bion (salicylic acid
cultivars of cucurbits. Cucumbers that lack cucurbita- mimic), Milsana (giant knotweed extract) or Messen-
cin are resistant to the beetles but susceptible to mites. ger, and some plant hormones (cytokinin and abscisic
acid). Thus, the inducer or elicitor is important for
Another example is the production of glycoalkaloids what it does, not what the structure is. The modes of
in potatoes. These compounds confer resistance of action of these different inducing agents are being
leaves to the Colorado potato beetle. These glyco actively explored by researchers. Interestingly, ap-
alkaloids in tubers, however, can be toxic to humans. plication of larger amounts of an inducing agent will
A beetle-resistant cultivar Lenape was pulled from not give greater resistance, and the response can vary
the market due to the high levels of glycoalkaloids by cultivars of plants.
in the tubers.
Some time must pass after applying an inducing agent
Induced Plant Resistance before resistance can be observed. The amount of time
varies by the species as well as the pathogen. In ad-
Induced plant resistance is an enhanced defense dition, the inducing agent often needs to be reapplied
capacity developed in a plant after being stimulated to keep up the resistance. For example, some of the
(Kuc, 2001). In some ways, this could be described chemical inducers must be applied every two weeks
as priming or vaccinating plantsafter receiving a to maintain the resistance levels (e.g. Messenger).
shot (inducing agent) in a single part of the plant, Induced resistance can cause reductions in yield in
the whole plant becomes more resistant to future at- some cases, but losses to the pest need to be balanced
tack. Induced resistance does not, however, require with yield depression.
application of antibiotics.
The potential for induced resistance in agricultural
This induced resistance is different than host plant settings seems obvious, but is difficult to document
resistance in that the effects tend to be non-specific for consistent effects. Treatment of crops with inducing
the target pest. Induced resistance has been described agents has shown improved resistance to pests in some
for pathogens in 30 species and for herbivores in 100 cases, but not all. New information on soil microor-
species. For diseases, induced resistance is most ef- ganisms indicates that even root infections can induce
fective at suppressing fungi, followed by bacteria and resistance in plant tops.

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Plant signals that activate Elicitors of Induced Resistance:

induced resistance Disease and insect pests
Potassium phosphate
Spinach/rhubarb extract
New chemical products: Actigard,
Sonata, Messenger, Serenade,
Plant Growth Promoting
Hormones (cytokinin, ABA)
Mycorrhizal fungi

Figure 2
Induced resistance requires that the plant be challenged by a pest or by some other compound (elicitor).
Once challenged, the crop quickly sends signals to other parts of the plant that cause the plant to enhance resistance, in
case of future attacks. The nature of this plant signal will vary by the crop. In some crops, up to two weeks are required
after the initial challenge for induced resistance to have an effect.

Soil organisms and amendments isms living in this nutrient rich zone are plant growth
promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) and plant growth
that affect plant resistance promoting fungi (PGPF). PGPR stimulate plant
growth and performance under stress in several
Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria ways. Some suppress growth of pathogens through
(PGPR) a) direct competition for resources or nutrients like
iron; b) by predation; or c) by producing antibiotic
The rhizosphere is the 2-5 mm region immediately or antifungal compounds. Fluorescent pseudomonads
around plant roots, into which plants pump large species are some of the most effective bacteria for
amounts of carbon as exudates. Free-living rhizo- suppressing soil borne diseases. Other organisms
sphere organisms survive on plant root exudates supply nutrients such as phosphorous or nitrogen,
and can affect plant growth rate and defend against or produce or metabolize plant hormones, affecting
plant diseases (Whipps 2001). Some of the organ- crop growth. The types of PGPR often vary by plant

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species and sometimes even variety, making inocula- inoculation with some specific suppressive fungi,
tion of plants for crop protection challenging. The such as Trichoderma or Bacillus spp. Not all composts
amount of organisms needed to affect crop growth suppress diseases, and some composts may actually
is unknown. increase disease levels. Those high in salts have been
shown to increase levels of Pythium, and those not
Sixteen different commonly occurring soil bacteria sufficiently cured, especially if they have high nitrogen
have been found to induce plant resistance. A link content, may increase disease.
between PGPRs and induced resistance has been re-
ported for anthracnose of cucumber, fusarium wilt on To maximize benefits of compost in potting media,
carnation and halo blight on beans (Ramamoorthy et al select well-cured (6 to 12 months) composts. Mix and
2001). Mixtures of these PGPRs have been more effec- pot the media before planting, and water to leach any
tive at inducing resistance than application of just one salts out of the media that may inhibit germination and
PGPR. These bacteria are applied as seed treatments growth. In fields, if the maturity of the product is un-
or drenches to transplants. One interesting interaction known, apply the compost well in advance of the crop
has been found between a PGPR and cucurbitacin to allow for stabilization of the compost (and reduce
content of cucumbers. Seed inoculation followed by nitrogen tie-up) and leaching of any salts.
drenching with a Bacillus species led to reduced cu-
curbitacin content in both bitter (high concentration
of cucurbitacin) as well as non-bitter cultivars. This Strategies to optimize pest
consequently reduced feeding by cucumber beetles
and reduced transmission of bacterial wilt (Zehnder suppression through soil
et al 2001). Thus, a rhizobacteria, growing around the management
roots affected the expression of a host plant gene, and
that in turn affected both insect and disease incidence
in the crop. We are only beginning to understand these Organic matter additions to soil become part of a com-
complex interactions between soil PGPR and the crops plex food web of soil organisms. Regular additions of
composition and disease resistance. fresh organic matter (active soil organic matter) will
increase microbial activity as it is decomposed by
Compost and disease suppression different groups of organisms. In turn, these microbes
will affect soil disease suppressiveness, as well as soil
Manure and compost amendments are typically applied physical and chemical characteristics and nutrient
to soil to recycle nutrients and build soil organic matter. availability. Older, more stable organic matter (passive
Composts have also been shown to suppress soil borne organic matter) is that humus fraction in the soil that
diseases and induce resistance in crops (Hoitink and contributes to cation exchange capacity and aggregate
Grebus, 1994). In a study with cucumbers grown in stabilityfactors that enhance plant growth.
either compost-amended or no-compost media, those
grown in compost showed a higher level of induced re- Since soil organic matter is dynamic, the effect of any
sistance (after being challenged) than those not grown particular amendment on soil quality will change over
in a compost media (Zhang et al 1998). This indicates time. Trying to predict the response of various soil
that multiple organisms may affect plant resistance microbial functional groups with the addition of any
(soil organisms as well as above-ground challengers) specific amendment is incredibly complex. Compost,
without causing disease (Figure 2). Microorganisms while disease suppressive, should be considered only
in compost may also control diseases by competing one part of a systems approach to disease management.
with the pathogen for food, by producing compounds A good approach is to use repeated (not just single)
that kill the pathogen, or by attacking the pathogen applications of different types of organic amendments.
directly. Several researchers have explored this type These amendments will feed different microbes as they
of disease suppression in compost-based media used are decomposed and increase soil microbial diversity
for ornamentals and food crops. The ability of com- and activity. Evaluate your soil amendments to provide
post to suppress diseases has been associated with the a diversity of food choices to the soil micro-herd
composting conditions (food stocks, management), can (Figure 3, page 118). An analogy to the human nutri-
change with maturity, and can be enhanced through tion food guide pyramid could be applied here. Avoid

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reliance on any one type of soil amendment, e.g. only ers have found that in organically managed systems,
rye as a cover crop, to enhance soil health. there is greater diversity in soil biota, higher microbial
activity which could contribute to greater competi-
Organic agriculture requires use of organic matter tion, antagonism and predation of disease organisms,
amendments to improve soil quality and provide higher populations of fluorescent pseudomonads and
nutrients to growing crops. In one study, field corn actinomycetes (important biocontrol organisms), and
was grown (in the greenhouse) in soils collected from generally a lower incidence of soilborne diseases (van
organic and conventional farms. European corn borers Bruggen, 1995).
laid more eggs on plants grown in the conventional
soils. The researchers concluded that the overall soil There are several components that growers must keep
management approach was more important than any in mind to make full use of the benefits of healthy soil
specific soil amendments or nutrient levels to predict on crop health and pest suppression. First, always
the insect behavior (Phelan et al, 1995). Other research- strive to optimize plant growth conditions, including

Diversify the Food Choices

A blend of roots and shoots from different food groups

High N Availability,
Hot Chemical Fertilizers
No Carbon content
Grass Clippings,
Moderate N Availability, New or used Grain Meals, Green
Lower C content green food and Animal Manures

Compost, Straw,
Low N Availability Stable, dead food
High C content Leaves, Non-
Legume Covers
Micro-herd Food Triangle

Figure 3
Soil organic matter amendments have different rates of decomposition in soil
Each phase of degradation will support different functional groups of soil organisms. The analogy of the food pyramid
is helpful to remember to provide different types of soil amendments to encourage a diverse and active population of
soil organisms. Prioritize carbon additions to soil, with nitrogen additions (as green or animal manures) that are more
moderate, and aim to minimize chemical fertilizers.

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minimizing crop stress and competition, and using crop plants against pests and diseases. Crop Protec-
the best cultural practices for your region. Second, tion. 20:1-11.
always try to select resistant varieties. Third, provide a
diversity of organic matter residues to your soils. These Van Bruggen, A.H.C. 1995. Plant disease severity in
residues, as they are degraded, will enhance microbial high-input compared to reduced input and organic
diversity and abundance. Some of these microbes will farming systems. Plant Disease. 79(10):976-984.
reduce soil pathogens as well as induce resistance in
plants, making the plants more able to defend against Van Bruggen, A.H.C and A.M. Semenov. 2000. In
future pest attacks. search of biological indicators for soil health and
disease suppression. Applied Soil Ecology. 15:13-24.

Literature Cited Whipps, J. M. 2001. Microbial interactions and bio-

control in the rhizosphere. Journal of Experimental
Botany. 52: 487-511.
Hoitink, H.A.J and M.E. Grebus. 1994. Status of
biological control of plant disease with composts. Zehnder, G.W., J.F. Murphy, E.J. Sikora, and J. W.
Compost Science and Utilization. 2(2):6-12. Kloepper. 2001. Application of rhizobacteria for in-
duced resistance. European Journal of Plant Pathology.
H. Hoper and C. Alabouvette. 1996. Importance of 107:39-50.
physical and chemical soil properties in the suppres-
sion of soils to plant diseases. European Journal of Soil Zhang, W., D.Y Han, W.A Dick, K.R. Davis, H.A.J.
Biology. 32(1):41-58. Hoitink. 1998. Compost and compost water extract-
induced systemic acquired resistance in cucumber and
Kuc, J. 2001. Concepts and direction of induced sys- Arabidopsis. Phytopathology. 88(5) p. 450-455.
temic resistance in plants and its application. European
Journal of Plant Pathology. 107:7-12. Zhang,-W.; Dick,-W.A.; Hoitink,-H.A.J. 1996. Com-
post-induced systemic acquired resistance in cucumber
Ramamoorthy, V., R. Viswanathan, T. Raguchander, V. to Pythium root rot and anthracnose. Phytopathology.
Prakasam, R. Samiyappan. 2001. Induction of systemic 86 (10):1066-1070.
resistance byplant growth promoting rhizobacteria in

Insect and Disease Management 119

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Disease Management Strategies:

Cultural Practices
Helene R. Dillard

Professor Department of Plant Pathology

New York State Agricultural Experiment Station Geneva, New York

Director Cornell Cooperative Extension

Purchase seed or transplants that are certified disease Plant several smaller transplant beds rather than fewer
free. large transplant beds. With smaller transplant beds,
individual seed lots from different sources can be
Select resistant or tolerant varieties. isolated from each other. Then, if one seed lot has an
undesirable disease, you can destroy plants in that lot in
Consider using hot water seed treatment to reduce con- order to prevent spread to the remainder of your plants.
tamination. Unfortunately, this treatment can reduce
germination and vigor in some varieties, and may not Keep varieties separated in the greenhouse and in
eradicate disease from heavily infested lots. It is not seedbeds. Pathogens and especially bacteria are rapidly
a 100% guarantee that the seed will be disease free. spread in water; close spacing in seedbeds and in the
greenhouse is ideal for rapid disease development.
Direct seed when possible. Spread is slower in direct Keeping the varieties separate will help you identify
seeded systems. This is basically due to the ability of problematic varieties.
pathogens to spread among dense plantings found in
transplant production areas. Destroy volunteer plants and weeds growing in and
near the transplant bed and production fields. These
Scout greenhouses and seedbeds on a weekly basis. plants may harbor pathogens. Symptoms on weed
Look for spots, wilts, or other symptoms characteristic species may or may not be present.
of disease or disorder.
Destroy all remaining plants in a seedbed as soon as
Select sites for seedbeds and crops where rotation has transplanting operations are completed. Transplants
been practiced. should only be handled when the foliage is dry.

Select sites for diseaseprone crops that have good air Do not dip or water transplants in crates or boxesthis
flow and good soil structure that promotes drainage. will very effectively spread pathogens.

Raise transplant beds above the surrounding area or Some bacterial diseases are highly contagious. For
trench the periphery to provide for drainage of excess example, if black rot is detected in a seedbed consider
rainfall. Flooding of the seedbed area can result in all plants at the location to be contaminated. Do not
widespread infection. attempt to separate healthy from diseased plants. Many

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plants will be contaminated, but will not be showing ing inoculum of pathogens. When disease pressure is
symptoms until the environmental conditions are fa- not severe, mulching can provide as good control as
vorable for symptom development. conventional chemicals.

Do not plant transplants showing disease symptoms. Achieve good weed and insect control. Weeds may
These plants will continue to be problematic through- harbor pathogens, rob the soil of valuable nutrients,
out the growing season. and encourage moisture retention in the canopy that is
favorable for disease development. Insects may serve
Insects should be controlled because insect feeding as vectors for pathogens and/or their feeding injury
injury provides wounds that are a large target of op- may provide a site of entry for pathogens.
portunity for infection.
Plant residues should be incorporated after harvest to
Only new crates should be used for shipping trans- encourage breakdown of diseased tissues.
plants. Reusable plastic or wooden plant containers
brought to the field should be cleaned and disinfested Cover crops and compost should incorporated into soil.
before returning them to the seedbed area for reuse. Both have been shown to build overall soil health and
promote buildup of beneficial microorganisms.
Clean all transplanting equipment before and after
each use. Various natural teas have been shown to provide
disease suppression in specific pathogen systems. In
A wellbalanced nutrient program will suppress disease general, compost teas hold the most promise for pro-
development. For example, studies have shown that moting, plant health and suppressing buildup of patho-
excess nitrogen causes lush vegetative growth and can gens. Excellent information was recently published
make crucifers more susceptible to black rot. Results by the Organic Farming Research Foundation in the
from a recent study showed that boron applied alone Winter 2001 number 9 information bulletin. Compost
or with nitrogen reduced the disease severity of black teas are very complex and require precise handling to
rot in cabbage. produce efficacious teas.

Avoid using overhead irrigation, but if necessary ir- Cull piles with infested debris should not be dumped on
rigate during the time of day when the plants will dry fields scheduled to grow the same crop the following
quickly. year. Research conducted in the Netherlands has shown
that fresh infested cull piles are a significant source of
Contaminated equipment, people, animals, overhead pathogenic bacteria that resulted in the development
irrigation, and winddriven rain will spread patho- of a black rot epidemic.
gens. Always work in diseased fields last and restrict
activities in fields until later in the day when plants Rotation to a non host crop is always recommended.
are completely dry to reduce the potential spread of
the disease.
Helpful Disease Management
Tools used for pruning, staking, and tying should be
disinfested frequently, and especially when used on References
different varieties. Wounding plants during these op-
erations should be avoided, as wounds provide a site
for entry of pathogens. Sustainable Vegetable Production From StartUp to
Market. Vernon P. Grubinger. NRAES-104, ISBN 0
Planting on raised beds allows excess water to drain 935817 45 X
from around plant foliage and roots. Removal of exces-
sive moisture is a deterrent to disease development. Plant Disease Control; towards environmentally ac-
ceptable methods. Richard N. Strange. Chapman and
Mulching has been shown to provide a physical bar- Hall, 1993, ISBN 0 442 31666 6
rier between susceptible plant tissue and overwinter-

Insect and Disease Management 121

This page is from Organic Vegetable Production, NRAES-165. To purchase the book,
visit, or call (607) 255-7654. Page 1 of this PDF has fair use information.

Alternative Agriculture. National Research Council. Aspire, Ecogen, Candida oleophiia isolate 1182
National Academy Press, Washington, DC 1989, ISBN
0 309 03987 8 Serenade (QRD 137), AgraQuest, Bacillus subtilis
QST 713 strain
The Real Dirt. Edited by Miranda Smith and members
of NOFA. 1994, NESARE SoilGard 12G, Thermo Trilogy, Gliocladium virens
Plant Diseases: their biology and social impact. Gail
L. Schumann. 1991 APS Press, ISBN 0 89054 116 7 AQ10, Ecogen, Ampelomyces quisqualis

Compost Tea Manual. Karl Rubenberger, 1999. Avail- Contans, Encore Technologies, Coniothyrium
able from Organic Farming Research Foundation minitans

Web site for info on soil health, etc. Soil Food Web Products from organic origins, Manufacturer, Active
Incorporated. Dr. Elaine Ingham. http://www. soil- Ingredient
Elexa, Safe Science, chitosan
Biocontrol Products, Manufacturer, Active Ingredient
Trilogy, Thermo Trilogy, clarified hydrophobic
Mycostop, Kemira Agro Oy, Streptomyces griseo- extract of neem oil
viridis strain K61
Milsana (a.k.a. BAS 114 UBF and KHHUBF
RootShield and PlantShield, Bioworks, Tricho- 99001), KHH BioSci, Reynoutria sachalinensis
derma harzianum Rifai strain KRLAG2 (giant knotweed) extract

122 Organic Vegetable Production

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Cultural Practices for Disease Management

Curtis Petzoldt
Vegetable IPM Coordinator
Integrated Pest Management Program
New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
Geneva, New York

Resources for Disease and Pest 6. Processing Sweet Corn Scouting Procedures
Northeast IPM Web site:
7. Cucurbit Scouting Procedures
New York Resources proc/cuke00.html

1. A Growers Guide to Cabbage Pest Management 8. Tomato Scouting Procedures

in New York
2. Snap Bean Pest Management: A guide to regular proc/tom00.html
field monitoring in New York (manual and video)
9. IPM Elements
3. Integrated Pest Management for Onions (manual
and video)
4. Integrated Crop and Pest Management Guidelines
for Commercial Vegetable Production 10. Hoffmann, M and A. Frodsham, 1993. Natural
Enemies of Vegetable Insect Pests. CCE
11. Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies
5. Fresh Market Sweet Corn Scouting Procedures in North America
proc/fmsc99.html index.html

Insect and Disease Management 123

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New York Contacts Maine Contact

C. Petzoldt Jim Dill

Phone: (207) 581-3880
A. Seaman E-mail:

J. Mishanec New Jersey Resources

Massachusetts Resources 1. Web page has link set up for scouting procedure

location but they are not currently present
1. General vegetable page with many links
2. Web page includes IPM Elements for several vegetable crops

2. Specific crop page with scouting procedures for

many crops including: Crucifers, Cucurbits, Herbs,
Hydroponics, Legumes, Lettuce and Greens, Pep- New Jersey Contact
pers, Potatoes, Specialty Crops, Root Crops, Sweet
Corn, Tomatoes Joe Ingerson-Mahar
Phone: (732) 932-9802 E-mail:
Connecticut Resources
Massachusetts Contact
Ruth V. Hazzard
Phone: (413) 545-3696 1. Vegetable IPM information and fact sheets for pep-
E-mail: pers, tomatoes, beans, cole crops, corn, cucurbits,
lettuce, potatoes, eggplant and squash
Maine Resources
Connecticut Contact
1. Potato IPM page
T. Jude Boucher Phone: (860) 875-3331
2. Broccoli IPM page
Delaware Resources

3. Sweet Corn IPM page 1. Sampling Guidelines and action thresholds for
Cabbage, muskmelons, potatoes, sweet corn, wa- termelons

124 Organic Vegetable Production

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2. Insect trap catches and disease forecasts plus other Maryland Resources
reference publications
IPM page does not currently contain much specific
Delaware Contact vegetable information.

Joanne Whalen Maryland Contact

Phone: (302) 831-1303
E-mail: Sandra Sardanelli
Phone: (301) 405-7877
Rhode Island Resources E-mail: New Hampshire Resources

IPM page does not currently contain much specific

vegetable scouting information. htm

Rhode Island Contact IPM page does not currently contain much specific
vegetable information.
Richard A. Casagrande
Phone: (401) 8742924 New Hampshire Contact
Dr. Alan T. Eaton
Vermont Resources Phone: (603) 862-1734
Pennsylvania Resources
IPM page does not currently contain much specific
vegetable scouting information. IPM page does not currently contain much specific

vegetable scouting information.
Vermont Contact
Ann Hazelrigg
Phone: (802) 656-0493 Pennsylvania Contact
Dr. Ed Rajotte
West Virginia Resources Phone: (814) 863-4641

IPM page does not currently contain much specific

vegetable scouting information.

West Virginia Contact

Rakesh S. Chandran.
Phone: (304) 293-6131 Ext. 4225

Insect and Disease Management 125

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Regional/U.S. References Crucifers

University of California IPM program. 1985. Inte-

Peppers grated Pest Management for Cole Crops and Lettuce.
UC Publication 3307.
Boucher, T. Jude and Richard Ashley. 2000 Northeast
Pepper IPM Manual. University of Connecticut, Com- Schooley, Jan. 1995. Integrated Pest Management for
munications and Information Technology, 1376 Storrs Crucifers in Ontario: A Handbook for Growers, Scouts
Rd., U-4035 Storrs, CT 06269-4035. $19.95 and Consultants. OMAFRA

Potatoes Cucuzza, James, J. Dodson, B. Gabor, J. Jiang, J.

Kao, D. Randleas, V. Stravato, and J. Watterson. 199?.
Western Regional IPM Project. 1986. Integrated Pet Crucifer Diseases: A Practical Guide for Seedsmen,
Management for Potatoes in the Western US. Univer- Growers, and Agricultural Advisors. PetoSeed.
sity of California Publication 3316.
Sweet Corn
Hollingsworth, Craig S, David Ferro, and William Coli.
1986. Potato Production in the Northeast: A Guide to Adams, Roger and Jennifer Clark. 1995. Northeast
Integrated Pest Management. Massachusetts Coopera- Sweet Corn Production and Integrated Pest Manage-
tive Extension Publication C-178. ment Manual. University of Connecticut Cooperative
Rowe, Randall C. 1993. Potato Health Management.
APS Press. 3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul, Minne- Shurtleff, Malcolm. 1980. Compendium of Corn
sota. 55121. Diseases. APS Press. 3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul,
Minnesota. 55121.
Hooker, W.J. 1981. Compendium of Potato Diseases.
APS Press. 3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul, Minne- Blair, B.D. et al. 198?. Corn Pest Management for the
sota. 55121. Midwest. North Central Regional Publication No. 98.

Cucurbits Tomatoes

Motes, Jim and Gerrit Cuperus. 199?. Cucurbit Pro- University of California IPM Program. 1985. Inte-
duction and Pest Management. Oklahoma Cooperative grated Pest Management for Tomatoes. UC Publica-
Extension Service Circular E-853. tion 3274.

Bernhardt, Elizabeth, Jeff Dodson, John Watterson. Jones, J.B., John Paul Jones, R.E. Stall, T.A. Zitter.
1988. Cucurbit Diseases: A practical Guide for 1991. Compendium of Tomato Diseases. APS Press.
Seedsmen, Growers, and Agricultural Advisors. 3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul, Minnesota. 55121.
Pernezny, K et al. 1995. Florida Tomato Scouting
Zitter, Thomas, Donald Hopkins, and Claude Thomas. Guide. University of Florida Publication SP-22
1996. Compendium of Cucurbit Diseases. APS Press.
3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul, Minnesota. 55121. IPM, Organic, and Sustainable Agriculture

Onions Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas

Schwartz, Howard F. and S. Krishna Mohan. 1995.

APS Press. 3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul, Minne-
sota. 55121.

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Table 1
Cultural Practices for Controlling Plant Diseases

Practice Conditions Affected Disease Prevented

Use resistant varieties
Slows or stops disease development Many diseases
Manage vectors of diseases
Staking, pruning Increase air movement
Many foliar diseases
Wide-row spacing and leaf drying
Timely irrigation Minimize leaf wetness period
Many foliar diseases
Use drip instead of sprinkler irrigation Slows or stops disease development
Rogue or destroy infected plants Slows or stops disease development Many diseases
Windbreaks Limit spread of airborne spores Many foliar diseases
Plastic or straw mulches Prevent soil splashing onto foliage, fruit
Many foliar diseases
Do not work in fields with wet foliage Reduce spread of inoculum
Raised beds
Improve water drainage Many root and crown rots
Chisel plow or subsoiling
Careful cultivation Promote healthy root growth Many root and crown rots
Floating row covers
Reduce aphid (vector) feeding Many viruses
Reflective mulches
Use disease free seed or transplants
Reduce source of inoculum Many diseases
Physically separate plantings
Good weed control-on farm Reduce source of inoculum Many viruses
Gentle harvest methods Avoid cuts, bruises Postharvest diseases
Rapid cooling at harvest
Slow microbial activity Postharvest diseases
Store at cool temperatures
Optimize NPK fertility Reduce stress, avoid rank growth Diseases in general
Rotate crops
Incorporate crop residues Reduce inoculum buildup Diseases in general
Remove infected crop debris
Wash equipment frequently Reduce spread of inoculum Diseases in general

C. Petzoldt adapted from H. Dillard

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Identifying and Encouraging Beneficial Insects

Michael P. Hoffmann
NYS IPM Program and Department of Entomology
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853

Insect and mite pests plague vegetable farmers, caus- Predators

ing damage to almost all crops. Many tactics are
available to manage insect pests and the integrated
pest management (IPM) strategy encompasses them Predators such as lady beetles and lacewings, are
all. Integrated pest management is fundamentally the mainly free-living species that consume a large num-
same as organic pest management except in organic ber of prey during their lifetime. They include many
systems there may exist more long-term stability or beetle, bug, fly, mite, and spider species. Both adults
balance in the overall system for a number of reasons and immatures are relatively mobile and search for
including a more diversified farming system. The two prey. In some species such as lady beetles, both the
approaches also differ when it comes to the use of larvae and the adults feed upon prey. In others, such
pesticides. If pesticides are used in organic farming as syrphid flies or lacewings, only the larvae consume
the options are limited to a relatively few natural insect prey. The adults may obtain nourishment by
products. In contrast, the conventional farmer has a feeding on nectar or pollen. Examples of some com-
multitude of synthetic and natural compounds to use. mon predators include:
Like organic pest management, IPM is ecologically
based and promotes pest control tactics such as pest- Lady beetles
resistant plants, and cultural, mechanical, physical and
biological control methods. Regardless, all farmers Adult lady beetles are small, round to oval, and dome-
want to produce safe food with minimal risks to health shaped and live for a few months to over a year. Lady
and the environment. beetle larvae are dark and alligator-like with three
pairs of prominent legs. Both adults and larvae are
One pest management tactic that is common to all veg- predacious. Lady beetles overwinter as adults, often
etable farms and is generally free is biological control. in aggregations along hedgerows, beneath leaf litter,
All insect pests have natural enemies. These organ- under rocks and bark, and in other protected places
isms may be predators, parasitoids or disease-causing including buildings. In spring, the adults disperse in
pathogens. The use of these organisms to manage pests search of prey and suitable egg laying sites.
is known as biological control. The emphasis here is
on the biological control of insects, though biological Female lady beetles may lay from 200 to more than
control is also very important for the control of weeds 1,000 eggs over a one to three month period, commenc-
and plant diseases. ing in spring or early summer. Eggs are usually depos-

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ited near prey such as aphids, often in small clusters in Lacewing larvae are generalist beneficials but are best
protected sites on leaves and stems. The more common known as aphid predators. The larvae are sometimes
species typically have one to two generations per year. called aphid lions. Various reports suggest that de-
veloping lacewing larvae eat from 100 to 600 aphids.
Most lady beetles found in vegetable crops and gardens Larvae and adults may be common in sweet corn and
are aphid predators. Some species prefer certain aphid field crops through summer.
species while others will attack several species on a
variety of crops. If aphids are scarce, lady beetle adults Hover or syrphid flies
and larvae may feed on the eggs of moths and beetles,
and mites, thrips, and other small insects, as well as Adult hover flies resemble bees or wasps and are
pollen and nectar. They may also be cannibalistic. usually seen on or near flowers. The male flies have
Because of their ability to survive on other prey when a distinctive hovering and darting habit. Hover flies
aphids are in short supply, lady beetles are particularly range in size from quite small to a little larger and
valuable natural enemies. narrower than houseflies. The female hover fly lays
single elongated eggs near or among aphid infestations.
Lady beetles are voracious feeders and may be numer- Females may lay several hundred eggs through mid-
ous where prey are plentiful. Lady beetles need to eat summer; the larvae hatch after two to three days. The
many aphids per day so that they can lay eggs. The small, cylindrical, legless maggots vary in color from
convergent lady beetle may eat its weight in aphids cream to green to brown, depending on the species and
every day as a larva and consume as many as 50 aphids prey consumed. They develop a slug-like form, up to
per day as an adult. Sevenspotted lady beetle adults ~1/2 long, tapered towards the head. The larvae can
may consume several hundred aphids per day and each move around leaves and through the canopy in search
larva eats 200 to 300 aphids as it grows. of prey. The period from egg to adult ranges from two
to six weeks, depending on the temperature, species,
Green lacewings and availability of aphids. If aphids are plentiful, there
may be five to seven generations per year.
The common green lacewing is native to much of
North America. Adults feed only on nectar and aphid Hover flies larvae feed on aphids, small caterpillars,
honeydew, but their larvae are active predators. Adult and, possibly, thrips. Hover fly larvae have been re-
green lacewings are pale to bright green, about ~1/2 corded as predators of the larvae of European corn
to 3/4 long, with long antennae. Large, transparent borer and corn earworm. In vegetable crops hover fly
wings are held upright over a fragile body. Some larvae may be most apparent from mid-summer to
species have prominent, golden eyes. Adults are ac- fall. This may be after the initial aphid infestation has
tive fliers, particularly during the evening and night. established, depending on the crop, species, and region.
Through spring and summer, the female lays several Hover fly larvae are voracious aphid predators. A single
hundred small eggs, each at the end of a long silk stalk, larva may consume up to 400 aphids during develop-
sometimes in clusters, on leaves or twigs in the vicinity ment, depending on species of hover fly and aphid.
of aphids. The larvae are pinkish brown and cream,
and alligator-like with well-developed legs and large, Bats
prominent pincer jaws, used to suck the juices from
prey. They are very mobile and grow through three These natural predators are often overlooked as pos-
instars, in about two to three weeks. sible biological control agents. One reason is the dif-
ficulty in proving that they actually reduce pest infesta-
Reported prey include several species of aphids; tions. However piecing together the existing informa-
thrips; mites; whiteflies; eggs of leafhoppers, moths, tion and knowing that they consume large numbers of
including diamondback moth, cabbage looper, and insects strongly implies that they do provide farmers
corn earworm, Colorado potato beetle, asparagus some benefit. Another point to bear in mind is that
beetle, and, possibly, leafminers; small caterpillars bats feed at night in contrast to most beneficial insects,
and beetle larvae, including small larvae of Colorado which seek prey during the day. Thus bats complement
potato beetle. the benefits derived from insect natural enemies. The
reason not much is known about the potential benefit

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derived from bats and birds is that they prey mostly Egg parasitoids
on highly mobile adult insects and the impact on this
stage has been exceedingly difficult to study. Trichogramma species are egg parasitoids with a very
wide host range, especially among the moths. Several
The bats common to central New York include the species have been mass reared for use in biological
little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), big brown bats control programs. The adult wasps are minute, mostly
(Eptesicus fuscus), hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus) 1/50 long. The female wasp lays one or more eggs in
and red bats (Lasiurus borealis). Little brown bats can an egg of the host insect, and one or several parasitoids
eat up to 1200 mosquito sized insects in an hour. Big may develop. Trichogramma species pupate within
brown bats consume insects at a rate of 500 per hour. the host egg. Adult wasps emerge seven to 10 days
Bats are free to farmers and there are no environmental after the egg is deposited. Warm temperatures favor
side effects associated with their use. development and many generations may be produced
each season. Trichogramma overwinter in the host egg,
emerging as adults the following spring. Eggs usually
Parasitoids turn black as the parasitoids develop inside. A small
hole in the black host egg indicates that the wasps have
emerged. Reported hosts include eggs of caterpillar
Parasitoids are species which have an immature (worm) pests such as European corn borer, corn ear-
stage that develops on or within a single insect host, worm, imported cabbageworm, diamondback moth,
ultimately killing the host. The adult parasitoid lays cabbage looper, and tomato and tobacco hornworm.
her eggs on, within, or near the host. The immature Trichogramma are particularly good natural enemies
parasitoids, which hatch from the eggs, are entirely of caterpillars because they parasitize and kill the pest
dependent on their host for nourishment. They feed in the egg stage, before the crop is damaged.
(internally or externally) on the host, developing to
maturity and eventually leaving the host as adults or Worldwide, no other group of parasitoids has been
to complete development. Adult parasitoids may be used as extensively as the Trichogramma for direct
predatory or they may seek other food sources. Many control of pests, and considerable effort has gone into
species of wasps and some flies are beneficial parasit- the mass rearing and release technology. Experimen-
oids. Examples include: tal or commercial biological control programs with
Trichogramma have been undertaken or are available
Aphid parasitoids for control of pests of corn, cotton, cabbage, pea, avo-
cado, tomato, forests, soybean, rice, and citrus. The
Aphidiid wasps attack only aphids. Adults are very successful use of commercially reared Trichogramma
small (~1/8) and dark, with long antennae. Typically, requires that the correct species be used, that it be of
females lay up to several hundred eggs. One larva de- high quality, and that the parasitoid be released at the
velops within each aphid. The larva either emerges to appropriate rate and when the host eggs are present. Us-
spin a cocoon under the dead aphid or pupates within ers should follow directions very carefully and examine
the tanned and mummified aphid body. The adult wasp the release units before, and several days after, placing
emerges after cutting a circular hole in its cocoon. them in the field to see if the material is viable and to
Adults live from one to three weeks, and there can be determine if the Trichogramma actually emerged (exit
many generations per year. Some species overwinter holes should be present in each egg). To determine if
within the mummified aphid host. the releases are providing some control, pest eggs can
be collected at the release site and observed for para-
The most conspicuous sign of aphidiid activity is the sitism. Note, however, that naturally occurring (not
presence of aphid mummies. The mummies may oc- released) Trichogramma may also be present.
cur within an aphid colony or be found singly on leaves
or stems. Praon species spin their cocoon beneath the Tachinid flies
aphid body to encase the developing parasitoid pupa.
Most aphid species will be parasitized to some extent Adult tachinid flies are often gray, reddish, or yel-
if aphidiid wasps are present. Different wasp species lowish-brown, heavily bristled (or fuzzy), and about
may parasitize different aphid species. 3/8 to 1/2 long. Some tachinid flies resemble large,

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bristly house flies. Females may place their small eggs ditions). Under the correct environmental conditions,
directly on their host. Some species inject living larvae certain diseases can decimate insect populations.
directly into the host; others lay eggs or larvae on a
leaf surface where they can be eaten by the host, or at Bacteria
the entrance of a host cavity or feeding tunnel from
where the larvae seek the host. Over 90 species of naturally occurring, insect-specific
(entomopathogenic) bacteria have been isolated from
The larvae or maggots are grayish or greenish-white; insects, plants, and the soil, but only a few have been
they may have thick bodies with tiny spines or even studied intensively. Much attention has been given to
plates. Usually only one larva survives per host. The Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a species that has been
larvae of many tachinid species bore out of the host developed as a microbial insecticide. Bacillus thurin
to pupate, often in the soil. The time spent as larvae or giensis occurs naturally in the soil and on plants.
pupae can be days or months, depending on the species. Different varieties of this bacterium produce a crystal
Tachinids overwinter as larvae or pupae within the host protein that is toxic to specific groups of insects. Bt
body. There may be one or several generations each has been available in North America as a commer-
season. Tachinid adults searching for hosts may walk cial microbial insecticide since the 1960s and is sold
rapidly over leaf or soil surfaces, moving in hops and under various trade names. These products have an
small flights around their target. Caterpillars and beetle excellent safety record and can be used on crops
larvae become extremely agitated in their efforts to until close to the day of harvest. Bt can be applied
fend off attack by a fly and will attempt to remove the using conventional spray equipment but, because the
eggs from their body. Reported Tachinid hosts include bacteria must be eaten to be effective, good spray
larvae of European corn borer, corn earworm, imported coverage is essential.
cabbageworm, cabbage looper, potato stem borer, stalk
borer, cutworms, armyworms, Mexican bean beetle, Fungi
and Colorado potato beetle; stink bug and squash bug
nymphs and adults; and adult tarnished plant bugs and Some insect species, including many pests, are particu-
cucumber beetles. larly susceptible to infection by naturally occurring,
insect-pathogenic fungi. These fungi are very specific
Immature insects parasitized by tachinids and other to insects, often to particular species, and do not infect
parasitoid flies invariably die. Parasitized adults may animals or plants. Fungal growth is favored by moist
continue to lay eggs before succumbing but parasitized conditions but fungi also have resistant stages that
hosts are generally less able to survive environmental maintain infection potential under dry conditions.
stresses and consequently their lifespan is shorter than Fungi can spread quickly through an insect popula-
unparasitized individuals. Some adult tachinids also tion and cause its collapse. Because fungi penetrate
feed on pest insects. Tachinid populations can increase the insect body, they can infect sucking insects such
very quickly and their high fecundity and relatively as aphids and whiteflies that are not susceptible to
short life cycle give them a competitive edge over bacteria and viruses.
many of their hosts.
Fungi invade insects by penetrating their cuticle or
skin. Once inside the insect, the fungus rapidly mul-
Pathogens tiplies throughout the body. Death is caused by tissue
destruction and occasionally by toxins produced by
the fungus. The fungus frequently emerges from the
Pathogens are disease-causing organisms including insects body to produce spores that, when spread by
bacteria, fungi, viruses and nematodes. They kill or wind, rain, or contact with other insects, can spread
debilitate their host and are relatively specific to certain infection. Infected insects stop feeding and become
insect groups. Their effectiveness can be dependent lethargic. They may die relatively rapidly, sometimes in
on environmental conditions such as humidity and an upright position still attached to a leaf or stem, per-
frequently they are most effective when the susceptible haps in an elevated location or concentrated near crop
insect species occurs at high densities (crowded con- borders. Infected root maggot flies may be clustered
on shoot tips, tall grasses, or other prominent features.

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Most insect pests of vegetables are susceptible to fun- ample while searching for suitable hosts for egg laying,
gal pathogens. Some fungi, such as the Entomophthora beneficial insects such as parasitoids may physically
and related species, are fairly specific with regard to the spread a virus through the pest population. Insect
groups of insects affected; others, such as Beauveria, viruses pose no threat to humans or wildlife. Viruses
have a wider host range. can overwinter in the environment or in overwintering
insects to re-establish infection in subsequent seasons.
Insect-pathogenic fungi usually need moisture to The successful commercialization of insect-pathogenic
enable infection, and natural epizootics are most viruses has been limited.
common during wet or humid conditions. The effec-
tiveness of these fungi against pest insects depends Viruses invade an insects body via the gut. They
on having the correct fungal species and strain with replicate in many tissues and can disrupt components
the susceptible insect life stage, at the appropriate of an insects physiology, interfering with feeding,
humidity, soil texture (to reach ground-dwelling pest egg laying, and movement. Different viruses cause
species), and temperature. The fungal spores, which different symptoms. NPV-infected larvae may ini-
can be carried by wind or water, must contact the pest tially turn white and granular or very dark. Some
insect to cause infection. Naturally occurring fungal may climb to the top of the crop canopy, stop feed-
epizootics may decimate aphid, root maggot fly, ing, become limp, and hang from the upper leaves or
caterpillar, leafhopper, and thrips populations. Some stems, hence the common name caterpillar wilt or
examples include: tree top disease. Victims of a granulosis virus may
turn milky white and stop feeding. In both cases, the
Entomophthora muscae infects flies. Susceptible body contents of the dead larvae are liquefied and
pest species include the adults of the onion mag- the cuticle ruptures easily to release infectious viral
got, cabbage maggot, and seedcorn maggot. The particles. Death from a virus infection usually occurs
fungus multiplies within the body of the adult within three to eight days.
fly which becomes enlarged; yellowish bands of
fungal spores stripe the abdomen. Naturally occurring viruses may affect many caterpillar
pests of vegetables. Isolates of NPV have been suc-
Beauveria bassiana is an insect-pathogenic fungus cessfully tested in field trials against corn earworm,
found naturally on some plants and in the soil. imported cabbageworm, cabbage looper, armyworms,
Epizootics are favored by warm, humid weather. It and European corn borer. Preparations of granulosis
is known as the white muscardine fungus because virus have been isolated from several caterpillar
infected insect larvae eventually turn white or gray. species, including imported cabbageworm, cabbage
Susceptible insects include the larvae of European looper, armyworm, and fall webworm.
corn borer, Colorado potato beetle, and Mexican
bean beetle. Unfortunately, natural enemies, such Nematodes
as some lady beetles, can be susceptible to some
fungi. These are not the plant-attacking species of nematode,
but beneficial, insect-attacking nematodes (or very
Viruses small roundworms). Many species of naturally occur-
ring, beneficial nematodes live both in the soil and on
Insect-specific viruses can be highly effective natural plant material. The role of many of these species is not
controls of several caterpillar pests of vegetable crops. well known, but some nematode species have received
Different strains of naturally occurring nuclear poly- attention as potential biological control agents. Several
hedrosis virus (NPV) and granulosis virus are present species can now be mass produced and some are avail-
at low levels in many insect populations. Epizootics able commercially.
can occasionally devastate populations of some pests,
especially when insect numbers are high. The commercially available nematodes are species of
Steinernema and Heterorhabditis. Mass reared nema-
Insect viruses need to be eaten by an insect to cause todes are shipped live as a suspension within a specially
infection, but may also spread from insect to insect formulated gel, as a slurry adhering to sponge mate-
during mating or egg laying. In some cases, for ex- rial, or in clay. When water is added, the nematodes

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are released from their carrier. These nematodes are instances the importance of these naturally occurring
too small to see without a microscope and there may beneficials has not been adequately studied. The best
be millions of squirming little worms in each handful we can often do is to recognize that these factors are
of soupy mixture. present and minimize negative impacts on them.

Some nematodes actively seek suitable hosts, often Classical biological control
attracted by the carbon dioxide emitted by their prey.
Others wait for passing prey. They carry insect-patho- In many instances the complex of natural enemies as-
genic bacteria within their gut. Different nematode sociated with an insect pest may be inadequate. This is
species carry different species of bacteria. Once the especially evident when an insect pest is accidentally
nematode penetrates its host, usually through any introduced into a new geographic area without its
available opening, the bacteria multiply and kill the associated natural enemies. These introduced pests
pest by septicemia. The nematodes feed on the bacteria comprise about 40% of the insect pests in the U.S.
and insect tissue, then mate, and reproduce. After one Examples include the European corn borer, cereal
to two weeks, young nematodes emerge from the dead leaf beetle, and Japanese beetle. To obtain the needed
insect to seek out and colonize new hosts. Affected natural enemies we turn to classical biological control.
insects usually die within one or two days. Those Classical biological control is the practice of import-
killed by Steinernema species turn a brownish-yellow ing and releasing natural enemies to help control
color from the bacterial infection. Insects killed by introduced pests, although it is also practiced against
Heterorhabditis nematodes become red and gummy. native insect pests. The first step in the process is to
determine the origin of the introduced pest and then
Many vegetable pests are susceptible to attack by collect appropriate natural enemies (from that location
nematodes but, for many, the potential of nematodes or similar locations) associated with the pest or closely
for field control has yet to be evaluated. Candidates related species. The natural enemy is then passed
for control include soil-dwelling larvae such as those through a rigorous quarantine process to ensure that
of cucumber beetles, cutworms, and armyworms, no unwanted organisms are introduced. The natural
carrot, sweet potato, and other root weevils, Japanese enemy is then reared, ideally in large numbers, and
beetle, squash borers, root and seed maggots, and fall released. Follow-up studies are conducted to deter-
armyworm and corn earworm in corn. mine if the natural enemy successfully establishes at
the site of release and the long-term impact (benefit)
of its presence.
Types of biological control
There are many examples of successful classical
biological control programs. Damage from the al-
Conservation falfa weevil, a serious introduced pest of forage, was
substantially reduced by the introduction of several
The conservation of natural enemies is probably the natural enemies. There are many classical biological
most important and readily available biological control control programs underway across the U.S. and around
practice available. Natural enemies occur in all veg- the world.
etable production systems, from the backyard garden
to the commercial field, they are adapted to the local Augmentation
environment and to the target pest, and their conser-
vation is generally simple and cost-effective. With The third type of biological control is augmentation,
relatively little effort the activity of these naturally which involves the supplemental release of natural
occurring beneficials can be observed. Lacewings, enemies. A relatively few natural enemies may be
lady beetles, syrphid fly larvae, and parasitized aphid released at a critical time of the season (inoculative
mummies are almost always present in aphid colonies. release), or literally millions may be released (inunda-
Fungus-infected adult flies are often common follow- tive release). Additionally, the cropping system may
ing periods of high humidity. These natural controls be modified (habitat manipulation) to favor or aug-
are important and need to be conserved and considered ment the natural enemies. An example of inoculative
when making pest management decisions. In many release occurs in greenhouse production of tomatoes

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and cucumbers. Periodic releases of the parasitic wasp, Most beneficial wasps, flies, and many of the predatory
Encarsia formosa, are used to control greenhouse insects benefit from sources of nectar and the protec-
whitefly; the predacious mite, Phytoseilius persimilis, tion provided by refuges such as hedgerows, cover
is used for control of the two-spotted spider mite. crops, and weedy borders. Mixed plantings and the
provision of flowering borders can increase the diver-
Lady beetles, lacewings, or parasitic wasps such as sity of habitats and provide shelter and alternative food
Trichogramma are frequently released in large num- sources. Examples of habitat manipulation include
bers. Recommended release rates for Trichogramma in the planting of flowering plants (pollen and nectar
vegetable or field crops ranges from 5,000 to 200,000 sources) near crops to attract and maintain populations
per acre per week depending on level of pest infesta- of natural enemies. For example, syrphid fly adults
tion. Research over the past several years has demon- can be attracted to umbelliferous plants in bloom.
strated the Trichogramma ostriniae, an egg parasitoid Caution should be used with this tactic because some
originally from China, is effective for suppression of plants attractive to natural enemies may also be hosts
European corn borer in sweet corn. Releases of 30,000 for certain plant diseases, especially plant viruses that
wasps per acre when corn is 18 inches tall and corn could be vectored by insect pests to the crop. Although
borer is active should result in suppression of the pest the tactic appears to hold much promise there are only
and damage. The released female wasps seek out and a few examples that have been adequately researched
insert their eggs into eggs of European corn borer. and developed.
Larvae hatch from the eggs and consume the contents
of the corn borer egg, killing the developing borer Lady beetles. Some species, in particular Coleomegilla
larvae in the process. From these eggs emerge more maculata, consume pollen as an important part of their
moths and the process continues through the season. adult diet. A source of nectar and pollen, or an artificial
T. ostriniae does not survive winters in New York so substitute, in the vicinity of the crop may attract adult
it has to be released each year fields need to be in- beetles and may reduce dispersal of this and other lady
oculated each season. This species is now available beetle species. Lady beetle adults also benefit from
for purchase and release. Recent work has shown that high humidity and nearby shelter, for protection from
T. ostriniae also holds potential against corn borer in adverse weather and to provide overwintering sites.
peppers and potatoes.
Early season populations of some lady beetles may
Many commercial insectaries rear and market a variety develop on aphid-infested perennials or shrubs. Col-
of natural enemies including predaceous mites, lady lection and redistribution of lady beetles is effective
beetles, lacewings, praying mantids, and several spe- but time consuming. The beetles should be handled
cies of parasitoids. Success with such releases requires gently and placed in groups at the base of plants, rather
appropriate timing (the host must be present or the than broadcast. Hibernating adults, congregating in
natural enemy will simply die or leave the area) and protected spaces, should not be disturbed as they are
release of the correct number of natural enemies per vulnerable to attack by predators and parasitoids if
unit area (release rate). In many cases, the most effec- uncovered.
tive release rate has not been identified as it will vary
depending on crop type and target host density. Suc- Lastly, a healthy soil with ample organic matter is
cess also requires a healthy and robust natural enemy. not only good for crops, but can profoundly influence
the nematode community structure. A healthy soil
can increase the total number of nematodes so that
Conserving and encouraging predaceous nematodes and nematode attacking fungi
can flourish. Generally, a healthy soil tends to reduce
natural enemies plant-attacking nematodes.

Given the lack of our full understanding of natural

Natural enemies are present all systems and their enemies and their interactions with pests, the best we
conservation and enhancement should be encouraged. can often do is to learn what they look like or signs
Manipulating the farm system to augment the effective- of their activity and then minimize disturbance of the
ness of a natural enemy is relatively straightforward. system.

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References and additional University < http :// www . nysaes . cornell . edu / ent /

Credit, excerpted material

Bat Conservation International. 2000. <http://www.>.
Some of the material contained in this proceedings was
Cunningham, S. J. 1998. Great Garden Companions excerpted from the following publications.
A companion planting system for a beautiful chemical-
free vegetable garden. Rodale Press: Emmaus. Hoffmann, M. P. 1999. Biological control of insects:
Past, present and future. pp. 9-12. In K. Stoner (ed.).
Flint, M. L. and S. H. Dreistadt, 1998. Natural En- Proceedings, Farmer/Scientist Conference on Alterna-
emies Handbookthe illustrated guide to biological tives to Insecticides in Managing Vegetable Insects
pest control. Univ. Calif. Div. Agric. and Nat. Res. Dec. 6-7, 1998, New Haven, CT. NRAES-138, Ithaca,
Publication 3386. NY.

Weeden, C., A. M. Shelton, L. Yi and M. P. Hoffmann. Hoffmann, M. P. and A. C. Frodsham. 1993. Natural
Biological control: A guide to natural enemies in enemies of vegetable insect pests. Cooperative Exten-
North America. World Wide Web Document. Cornell sion, Cornell University. 64 pp.

Insect and Disease Management 135

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Insect Management: Managing Beneficial

Habitats, Using Organic Insecticides
Ruth Hazzard
Dept. of Entomology
University of Massachusetts Extension
Amherst, MA 01003
Phone: (413) 545-3696

Whats different about insect Ill just hope they tough it out and outgrow it; OR
leafhoppers brought down my potatoes early, so Ill
management on organic farms? just harvest them now, put them in small bags, and
charge extra for small potatoes). Another approach
Scale and diversity is, if one crop is too difficult to grow organically,
Ill grow a different crop.
While its not always the case, organic vegetable farms
tend to be smaller in acreage and at least as, if not Market demands
more, diversified than conventional farms. This has
the benefit that there are smaller plantings of any given While wholesale organic markets can be just as de-
crop at any given time (no massive monocultures), but manding (zero tolerance for damage) as conventional
the disadvantage that it can be difficult to rotate as far markets, many organic growers choose markets that
as is needed to escape a given pest. Another benefit is have more tolerance for damage, and this provides
that is spreads the risk. If you lose one crop in a given some leeway. This includes farmers markets and
year, you have 70 others to sell. If you lose the early CSAs. Holey brassica greens (from flea beetle dam-
planting, there will be several more coming along. age) go over OK in a CSA box or at a farmers market,
but they would not do so well in a pallet going to Bread
Attitude and Circus. NO markets get excited about wormy corn.
However, I know organic farmers who are succeeding
I find that organic farmers are willing to tolerate very well in very demanding wholesale markets and
higher levels of damage as the crop grows, and I know organic CSAs and farm stands who only put
sometimes in the final product. Sometimes this is out the very best quality.
based on a certain philosophical view of nature and
farming (nature is basically benign; as a farmer I More attention to rotation, soil building
am working with nature, not trying to overcome and cover crops
it; there is abundance enough to provide for what
I need and the bugs, too) or sometimes its just ac- On most organic farms, there is more willingness to
cepting and making the best of what you cant do invest in long-term soil building and to take land out
anything about (the flea beetles are munching on of active production for a year or more and put it into
my early brassicas, but I cant afford row cover and cover crops. There may be more thought given to

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rotational planning (though I find that conventional have to find other means and you are willing to try
farmers do a lot this planning, too). more expensive, creative, and innovative strategies.

More commitment and interest in long-term Costs are higher

whole-system strategies
This all adds up to the fact that it costs more to produce
There are organic farms that have been able to reach a bushel of a given organic produce than it does to
the point where they dont spray any organic pesti- produce a bushel of conventional produce.
cides and they have high-quality crops all season long.
This represents the outcome of years of watching, Prices are higher (sometimes)
adjusting, fine tuning, combining a whole array of
practices and choices to create a whole system that The price differential is especially noticeable at the
works. It also requires adjusting what you grow and wholesale level, especially when demand is high and
when, as well as using a host of cultural practices to supply is low in the organic channels. The value of a
minimize pests. box of wholesale organic produce in mid-season is
the envy of any conventional farmer. At the farmers
Beneficial insects (predators and parasites) market, consumers may or may not care enough to
have more opportunity to build up spend more at your stand than someone elses who is
not organic. CSA growers get essentially retail prices,
Beneficial insects (predators and parasites) have more without as much of the cost of running a retail stand.
opportunity to build up to higher population levels,
and very likely have more impact on pest populations.
These natural enemies include lady beetles, spiders, What insect pests are the biggest
spined soldier bugs, insidious flower bugs, green lace-
wings, syrphid fly larvae, and a host of parasitic wasps. challenges?
Often you dont know these are present until you knock
them out. There are only a few broad-spectrum toxins
that organic growers can use (rotenone, pyrethrin), and Beetles
most use them very sparingly.
Beetles, especially the leaf-feeding beetles (Chrysome-
The most striking example Ive seen of this is corn leaf lids): Colorado potato beetle, flea beetles, cucumber
aphids in sweet corn. Aphids colonize organic corn just beetles. The options for beetle control (rotenone, py-
as they do conventional corn, but in years of scouting rethrin) are short-lived and not very effective. These
both types of farms, Ive never (really, not ever! as beetles overwinter as adults in field borders, colonize
strange as it may seem) seen the huge buildup of aphids the crop very fast, and cause immediate damage. Some
in tassels on organic farms that is fairly common in (e.g. striped cucumber beetles) also vector diseases.
conventional sweet corn. The difference: conventional Lack of control in one year or one generation can
farms routinely use broad-spectrum insecticides at result in buildup of populations in the next generation
least once in most corn plantings, knocking out natural or next year. In a small-scale farm, it is difficult to
enemies. Another factor may be the type of fertilizer. rotate far enough to escape them. However, the ar-
High levels of nitrogen from soluble fertilizers tend to rival of spinosad as a control option will make some
foster higher aphid populations. In peppers, we have of these easier.
documented that use of permethrin results in aphid
outbreaks, compared to very low numbers where no Migratory pests
broad-spectrum insecticides were used.
These arrive suddenly in large numbers, do not have
You cant just knock out the pest, so you many natural enemies, and can be difficult to control.
get creative These include corn earworm in corn, and potato leaf-
hopper in beans, and potatoes.
There are a number of key pests for which there is no
knockdown organic insecticide. This means that you

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Root maggots uses the pheromone traps to detect corn earworm flight,
and applies oil to fresh silks when the flight reaches
Root maggots, such as cabbage root maggot fly, which damaging levels.
attacks spring brassica crops. Efforts to find effective
biocontrols have failed. Row covers, soil health, crop Timing of plantings
rotation, and plant timing are key strategies.
Timing of plantings can help avoid periods of high
Thrips pest pressure.

Thrips attack onions and cole crops. Often not a pest, Plant early
but can bring crops down at high numbers and if crops
are otherwise stressed. Sweet corn: plant by mid May to avoid corn earworm,
which migrates into the region in late July or August.
Tarnished plant bug
Plant late
This pest has a huge host range and causes damage to
fruit (e.g. strawberries) and leaves (e.g. basil, pepper) Potato: plant early or mid June to avoid Colorado
potato beetle, which emerges from overwintering sites
Mexican bean beetle late May to mid June. If beetles find no food source,
they migrate elsewhere in search of host crops. Use
early varieties to ensure maturity before seasons end.
What pests are easy to deal with?
Crucifers: plant after mid-May to avoid spring cabbage
root maggot fly (first flight active from late April to mid
Caterpillars, especially those on brassicas. Bacillus May); plant after mid July to avoid the first generation
thuringiensis (Bt) products work very well. Euro- of flea beetle.
pean corn borer in sweet corn also can be effectively
controlled with Bt sprays. Spinosad will add another Vine crops: set out transplants after the middle of June
effective tool. to avoid the worst of the striped cucumber beetle, and
get past the most susceptible early stages (cotyledon
to 3 leaves).
What strategies help organic
Floating row covers. There are several different
growers successfully prevent weights of floating row covers (e.g., Reemay, Typar),
losses to insects? spun-bonded polypropylene covers, which can be
laid directly over the crop or supported by hoops. Air
and water travel through the cloth, but insects cannot
Soil health, good production practices (assuming edges are sealed). This is an excellent pest
control as well as providing some frost protection and
Healthier crops do sustain less damage or tolerate and added air and soil warmth for earlier yields. Widely
outgrow damage more readily. used by organic growers for:

Using IPM tools 1. Cabbage root maggot fly on spring crucifers. Eggs
are laid at the base of the stem by first-generation
Prevent pests using cultural practices, monitor pest adults, which fly from late April to mid May.
conditions in the field; spray at the critical time the pest Maggots feed on roots and kill early cole crop
reaches economic thresholds. An example: an organic seedlings. Row covers are a very effective control.
pepper grower who uses pheromone traps to detect
European corn borer flight, then when the threshold 2. Flea beetles on greens (crucifers and others). Tiny
is reached, applies Bt every 4-5 days during the flight black beetles cause shot-hole feeding. Can be used
period. Another example is a sweet corn grower who all summer on direct-seeded crops, or in spring

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or fall on transplants. Too hot for transplants in Bt tenebrionis (e.g. Novodor, Beetle Beater) against
midsummer. Colorado potato beetle. These are only good against
larval stages. Some products contain prohibited inerts
3. Leaf miner on spring spinach and chard. A fly (e.g. mineral oil in Dipel ES) or have been genetically
which lays eggs on underside of leaves, maggots manipulated (e.g. Raven, Mattch) so are not allowed.
tunnel inside leaf. And transgenic Bt plants are prohibited (as are contami-
nated kernels that might have resulted from the pollen
4. Cucumber beetle on melons, summer squash, of your neighbors Bt corn). The manufacturer of Dipel
cukes, winter squash. Protects both from feeding has produced a special formulation of Dipel ES for the
damage and vectoring of bacterial wilt. Must be organic market, and it is making its way through the
removed at flowering. approval process. This is an indication that the organic
farming industry has grown to a significant size.
5. European corn borer on early corn. Speeds growth
of early corn and protects from moths if left on Insecticidal soaps
into mid to late June, after first flight has peaked.
Apply loosely to allow for corn growth. Insecticidal soaps are made from the soaps of fatty
acids, and are used as contact insecticides to control
Interplanting and bio-strip intercropping soft-bodied pests such as aphids, thrips, whiteflies,
leafhoppers, some immature caterpillars, and mites.
Build into the farm plan plants which provide resources Good coverage and repeated applications are impor-
for natural enemies, including those in the Umbelli tant, but it does work. Non-persistent, low toxicity.
ferrae and Compositae families, which attract parasitic (M-Pede, Safers Soap, Concern).
wasps and predaceous flies and beetles because their
flowers have short nectaries. These resources can also Vegetable oil
be provided in sod strips between beds, or in border
areas. May be mowed at key times to encourage flow- Used against corn earworm in direct silk applications
ering, or produce mulch. to sweet corn. Corn oil or soybean oil may be used.
Acts by creating a suffocating barrier to larvae crawl-
Mulch or cover crops ing down the silk channel. Most effective when mixed
with a Bt product. Exempt from FIFRA and food toler-
Using strips of unmowed rye between rows of potato or ance requirements. A specially-designed oil applicator
cucurbits can reduce colonization by beetles. Similarly, (Zealater) is available from Johnnys. For more info,
rye or straw mulch has been shown to reduce coloniza- see <>.
tion of potato by Colorado potato beetles.
Beauvaria bassiana
Organic pesticides: using the tools we have
One of several naturally-occurring fungal pathogens
Many organic growers do spray for insect pests, but of insects. Spores are applied directly to insects or to
the tool box is very limited. Active ingredients and plant surfaces or other habitats (e.g. soil), where insects
specific formulated products have to be approved by pick them up on their bodies. Under favorable condi-
the National Organic Program. Several new options tions (warmth and high humidity), spores germinate
have recently been developed and approved, or are and penetrate the cuticle, and produce toxins that kill
expected in the next year or two. the insect. Hyphae grow fill the insects body, often
producing fuzzy white growth that is visible on the
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) outside. Most effective when used in high humidity
environments. (Naturalis-O, Botanigard 22W, ES,
Derived from a naturally-occurring bacterial patho- Mycotrol) GH, field. Note that Botanigard ES can
gen, Bt has been isolated and formulated for use as cause oedema in greenhouse tomatoes; use the 22W
a foliar spray. A tried-and-true organic tool. Organic formulation on tomato.
growers use Bt kurstaki (Dipel DF, Javelin WG or Bt
aizawi (e.g. Xentari) products against caterpillars and

Insect and Disease Management 139

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Kaolin clay Hot pepper wax

Fine white clay which disturbs insects visual and Capsacin (the hot component in hot peppers) micro-
tactile cues on host plants; adheres to insects. Beetles, encapsulated in a mixture of mineral oil and paraffin,
soft-bodied insects. Labeled for flea beetles on fruit- which adheres to plant surfaces. Acts primarily as
ing crops, and cucumber beetle on cucurbits, thrips on an insect repellent, but is also a toxin to insects and
onions. (Surround WP). Wear a mask or respirator to mites. Looked promising vs. flea beetle in brassica
protect from inhalation. greens in a UMass trial in 2002. (Hot Pepper Wax
Insect Repellent)
Garlic oil
Derived from an actinomycete fungus that is patho-
genic to insects. Spintor 2SC has been on the market for (Envirepel, Garlic Barrier, Garlic Grow)
several years, but was not allowed for organic produc-
tion. In 2003 there will be a newly labeled formulation
(Entrust) that has NOP approval. It is effective against More on biological control
caterpillars, Colorado potato beetle (CPB), thrips
and leafminers and is labeled for fruiting vegetables,
potatoes, brassicas, and cucurbits. This will be a big Conservation of natural enemies
boon for CPB control, because it works against adults.
As mentioned above, using selective insecticides that
Botanicals (extracted from plants) do not harm beneficials, and providing them with re-
sources such as nectar and shelter, increase the level
Neem of biocontrol that is taking place. In certain instances,
augmentation, or the release of mass-reared benefi
Extracts from the tropical neem tree have been used cials, can also help in suppressing pests. This tends to
for centuries in insect control. Neem oil acts upon be more successful in greenhouses than in the field, but
immature insects an insect growth regulator, disrupt- there are now several instances where releases in the
ing their molting process. It is also an antifeedant and field have been proven to suppress, if not completely
oviposition deterrent. It works slowly and should be control, key pests.
applied several times well before numbers reach dam-
aging levels to get the best results. (Azadirect, Azatin, A useful directory for choosing a natural enemy sup-
Neemix, Bioneem, Align; Trilogy 90, Neemazad, plier is Suppliers of Beneficial Organisms in North
Triact; active ingredient is azadirachtin). America available from the California Environmental
Protection Agency, Dept. of Pesticide Regulation, En-
Rotenone vironmental Monitoring and Pest Management, 1020
N St., Rm. 161, Sacramento, Calif. 95814-5604. tel.
Broad activity against a wide range of insects, espe- 916-324-4100 (
cially beetles. Hard on beneficials; highly toxic to fish; bensuppl.htm).
applicators should use protective gear.
Two helpful sources for biological controls located
Pyrethrin here in the Northeast are:

From the flowers of certain species of Chrysanthemum. The Green Spot, Ltd.
Broad activity as a nervous system toxin, against a wide 93 Priest Rd.
range of insects. Hard on beneficials, but low mam- Nottingham, NH 03290-6204
malian toxicity. Often mixed with piperonyl butoxide (603) 942-8925
(PBO) as a synergist, but this makes it prohibited.
Pyganic Crop Protectant is currently the only approved IPM Laboratories, Inc.
pyrethrin product. Locke, NY 13092-0300
(315) 497-2063

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Examples of mass-reared biocontrol organisms 943-8925 For more information, you can contact:
for vegetable crops Carol A. Holko, Maryland Department of Agri-
culture, Plant Protection and Weed Management
1. Beneficial nematodes. Nematodes are very small Section, 410-841-5920 (http://www.mda. state.
roundworms. Some species are plant pathogens,
but some attack soil-dwelling insects and two
in particular (Steinernema and Heterorhabditis) 3. Other species in this family include Edovum put-
have been mass-reared for commercial use. These lerii, also an egg parsitoid, which can be released
seek out and penetrate their host insects, multiply to control Colorado potato beetle in eggplant (not
within the host and kill it. Most likely to be effec- effective in potato).
tive against the soil-dwelling immature stages of
susceptible hosts, such as root weevils, cutworms, 4. Trichogramma spp. These tiny wasps lay their
white grubs (use Heterorhabditis), wireworms, and eggs inside the eggs of insects, and wasp larvae
maggots. Require moist soil conditions to survive. develop inside, killing the egg. Several species
are commercially available, but the most useful
2. Pediobius faveolatus is a small parasitic wasp in gardens would be T. pretiosum for caterpillar
of the Eulophid family, which attacks larvae of eggs. Releases should be timed to coincide with
the Mexican bean beetle. To purchase Pediobius, egg-laying. Another species, T. ostriniae, is now
contact: ARBICO, (800) 827-2847 (AZ), (http:// available and is very effective against European; The Beneficial Insect Com- corn borer. Ask supplier for instructions on release.
pany (NC), 336-973-8490 (http://bugfarm. com/) Sources for T. ostriniae: Beneficial Insectaries,
; Rincon Vitova (CA), 800-248-2847 (http://www. 800-477-3715, IPM Labs (see above). or The Green Spot (NH), 603-

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Pest Management on Applefield Farm

Transcript of a presentation by:

Steve Mong
Applefield Farm
Stow, Massachusetts

This kind of meeting is great. When I first started out 90-95% of our crop that we grow goes to our farm
there was no research, people, anything about how to stand so that makes the market different than a lot of
grow a crop organically. There was nothing. There was other people. We can talk to our customers. They can
no information, no interest, and in the last 10 to 15 ask us questions.
years it is amazing how much good research is going on
for our benefit. A lot of its for ground water protection Insect and disease control is what I am supposed to be
and other issues but it is benefiting us organic people talking about. I think in organic farming that is almost
tremendously. Most of us farmers wont change unless one of the easier subjects. To some extent there are not
the research is there to show us that things actually that many things we can do. I would guess that I spend
work. Any of you that have been farming for a while less on 25 acres of property, where we are grossing
know that its always an ongoing research project. The $100,000 or something like that in vegetables, we
years are never the same. Youve got different growing spend less than $200 a year on average on chemicals.
conditions, different crops, different bug pressures. Most of insect and disease control revolves around
Things that work one year dont work at all the next. your cultural practices. Whether its planting a little bit
So its not an exact science, which is what is part of later, going to transplants instead of seed. All of those
the fun of farming. things that they talked about earlier today. The cultural
practices are probably the number one resource that we
We started out 20 some odd years ago, self-serve have to take care of the insects and disease.
with a bench. Then the next year another bench and
the next year another bench then put some people, Tremendous amount of beneficials out there. Once you
started hiring full time and a steady progression over start looking you realize that, yeah, there are aphids on
fifteen years adding up to where we are presently do- those plants but dont spray them because youve got
ing around 20 to 25 acres of field crops and around a four different kinds of beneficials out there taking care
half acre of greenhouse. Weve been trying everything of it. Give it some time. In 20 years I think I had to
over the years. We dont have a single system on the spray a pepper crop once. Because the aphid population
farm that works, we have a bunch of systems and we was just too high and I didnt think it could balance
keep trying new things and we keep going to meet- out. It was probably there from in the greenhouse. Ive
ings and learning more. Weve done a bunch, we try gotten better. They dont go out in the field with aphids
a bunch and for the most part it is working out pretty already on them. I dont know if that is what it was
well. We are a direct retail. We have a farm stand. but in 20 years Ive only had to spray pepper plants

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once for aphids. Tomato plants the same way. I think Corn, Ruth mentioned. Ive worked with Ruth Hazzard
one year the balance was out of whack. The hornworm for almost 10 years on that corn earworm project. Built
was just too big. We sprayed them once. Many times my own applicators for a while. People used oil cans
I have thought about spraying. I didnt want to affect and little bits. It doesnt have to be high tech. I started
the natural population. I lost a few leaves but then sure out the first year I actually tried it I had my acres of
enough the natural beneficial comes in and takes care corn and I just did, I think, four rows. Two down and
of the problem. two back, and I tried to time it so that I could pick that
on the weekend.
A couple of other notes. I do a lot of beneficial stuff.
Our greenhouse, we have almost up to a half acre of Because we have regular customers where we are pick-
greenhouse now, its getting to be one of the bigger ing and they learned about the worm and they didnt
parts of the operation. I rely tremendously on brought like it when it showed up. But we left a knife on the
in beneficials. In that enclosed environment they work table they could leave the worm with us. It was okay
extremely well for almost all of the insect pests that but your sales do go down. But weekends it was a
you might have. Ive been doing the Trichogramma for whole other crowd there is enough tourist activity and
years, ostriniae now and the pretiosum before that. I new people driving by and boy the customer comes in
think that there is a lot of new research coming out and and your whole farm stand is judged by that one ear
the rearing processes for some of these beneficials is of corn. Its so disturbing to have them just Ugh and
getting better so the price is coming down. It is becom- just run out of the door and you will never see them
ing more of a viable option on some of these crops. again. I saved this corn and I only picked it for the
weekends. It only lasted that one weekend but I saw a
Im going to rely a lot on individual questions. The remarkable difference in the numbers of ears. It wasnt
disease and insect control is so dependent on what is 100% but it probably went from 40% clean to 60% or
going on in your own farms. Im happy to tell you what 75% clean. Im not a researcher but if you dont hear
I do. A couple of the major crops Ill talk on briefly is too many squeals it is better. And so Ruth started this
something like tomatoes. For us and for anybody prob- program, so we have been doing this for quite a while.
ably its one of the number one value crops we grow.
Insects to me are not a problem on tomatoes; I have This past year we had such a drought where I am that
never had, like I said once I had hornworm. Disease I had a choice to water the corn or do the oiling and I
is an issue and what weve worked out is we plant watered the corn and the customers dealt with it. But
three distinct crops of tomatoes. An early planting, the the year prior to that I oiled almost all of the late season
main season planting and Ill put in a late planting of corn. It doesnt come in in the early season, its the last
tomatoes so that they are just starting to bear for the month or so. Its not that daunting of a project and the
first of September which I consider the hardest time corn was pretty darn good. Im disappointed because
to keep tomatoes coming in. So they are young, they I did put the ostriniae out there because I was thinking
havent even produced yet, they are coming in at the okay now Ive got the corn borer protection and I just
end of the season. never followed up with the earworm protection. So
those are the two main crops, corn, and I dont have
We will work hard not to pick one crop of tomatoes and aphids on the corn there are just tremendous beneficials
another crop in the same day. I dont want to spread out there. You have to be careful picking your corn
disease from one to another. Keep them separated, stay to not squeeze the immature ladybug larvae that are
out of them. Disease management. When the plants are running all over it.
wet dont go in there. And you can really significantly
extend your tomato-growing season without anything. Two other of the major pests that Ruth just mentioned.
I have to say I have in the last couple of years used Leafhoppers, what a pain. And striped cucumber beetle
a new product called Oxidate. Sometimes known as primarily. But cucumber beetles there are so many
Zerotol. With this mist blower have been able to go even in the rotation all the pumpkins and squash and
through and have a surprisingly good late season crop cucumbers and zucchini and gourds get mixed up
of tomatoes. The cleanest Ive ever seen. around. But they are everywhere. Our answer for the
striped cucumber beetle for the most part is we have
gone back to all transplants so the plants are bigger

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when they go in. Take off quicker. A lot of things we to spray acres of corn? I sorted it out. I could spray
will plant a little bit later so the ground is warmer. They with one tankful; I sprayed close to a half acre plus.
will grow quicker and it gets them out of that most Which is the concept of a sprayer like this. They call it
susceptible stage. We did do the Surround two years low volume. Which means low volume water. Youve
ago in the transplant trays. That does make a difference. got the same amount of material going on per acre.
I dont like working with the Surround. Im not sure if Instead of using 50 gallons of water or 25 gallons of
I will keep working with it. We were never a certified water you are using two or three gallons of water. Very
organic operation, being a direct retail we could talk. low water with a very high concentration in the tank
I followed MOFGAs rules, which is Maine organic but the application, as the droplets come out it drops
farmers. Currently we are probably not going to go into the air stream and it gets sheared off so it breaks
through the certification. Im not sure how close we are whatever chemical you happen to be using into very
going to follow. If we had to go around with a pump small particles. To give a complete coating of whatever
sprayer to spray a little bit with a rotenone pyrethrin you are spraying.
is what we used to use. But again cultural practice and
I think with some of this new trap cropping there are It is really difficult to get used to the concept of us-
some improvements on that end. ing a tool like this because the concentrations are so
high. I might put a quarter pound of BT in that two
Leafhopper that is one that to some extent we like the and a half gallons of water. Its a hard concept but for
leafhopper coming in. Thats our natural burn down. certain crops it makes a lot more sense than spending
The plants decline so it hardens the potatoes off, so a few thousand dollars on a sprayer that you would
long as it doesnt come too early. There were a few use once or twice a year or every three or four years.
times that I had to spray and that is one of the few It is just something to keep in mind. This is the least
times I used this machine here (backpack mist blower) expensive thing I know for a mechanized sprayer
and rotenone pyrethrin was allowed, this was probably that can do some acreage. People who have a small
three years ago. Last year we didnt really have much orchard application these things are great. If you are
of a leafhopper problem. I dont know why. We were just doing ten or 15 trees. Peaches, apples, whatever.
lucky. They do vary tremendously year to year. That Its an interesting tool.
is the problem with some of these pests. They all fire
up one year and the next year they are not there. Its I can talk more about any of this stuff, so questions
a tough one. would be great at this point because I dont have much
When I was spraying the pumpkin field. One of the
advantages and I guess Ill briefly talk about the
mist blower. This is a motorized backpack sprayer. Questions and answers
I bought it primarily to use in the greenhouse. They
run about $500. Some of these other sprayers people
buy are $2,000-$3,000 and I dont have that big of an Q: How far does the mist go from the nozzle?
operation. Im real surprised; we use that in the field a
little bit. Primarily we rely on the pump sprayers and A: If there was a hanging basket hanging up in the
for the most part they do pretty good. The really nice corner I could spin it. Roughly a 200-mile per hour
thing about having a wind coming out is if you want wind coming out. Thats probably pushing it. If you
to get material under, sometimes I have used it on the were trying to do full sized apple trees you would have
pumpkins and watermelons, real low rpm, walk around to walk into the tree and really work on it. Its got some
and you can just see that the plant is just blowing over. distance and thats why I like it in the greenhouse. Its
You are getting material all over it and I was real leery. why I bought it in particular, because I can walk down
the greenhouse and get what I need and then actually
The project we had last year with the corn project see the hanging baskets doing this. Ive got coverage.
where Ruth wanted everyone participating to spray
two applications with BT for corn borer. Im going Q: Is there a concern with spray drift? Sometimes
I dont have a sprayer. I can get over little corn but I you only want to spray one crop.
cant drive the tractor over big corn. How am I going

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A: True. Again you can adjust the airflow; you can finally figured out that in my greenhouse operation I
adjust the droplet, so that when I spray Ive got like treat that 2 1/5 gallons as if it was 25 gallons. That
two rows of tomatoes side by side on plastic. Im con- seems to work pretty good for me. I am treating the
centrating my spray on the tomato plant. Youve got equivalent area that 100 gallons dilute would take care
very good control. If I was trying to grow an organic of. You have to gain some experience and it is not that
crop next to a non-organic crop I couldnt guarantee easy and it is not that hard either.
that there isnt going to be a little bit of a drift but there
isnt much. So if you are worried about that you can Q: Youre using Oxidate against tomato diseases?
walk down the other side of the plant. But pretty much
if you need it to go the distance you can wait for it to A: Yeah OxiDate, ZeroTol. Are people familiar with
get out there or you can adjust the droplet size, slow it it at all? Zero tolerance is what it first came out as and
down. They also have a diffuser; and different nozzles that was registered for greenhouse for cleanup so it
that you can put on to broaden or do different things wasnt registered specifically for vegetables. So they
with the exhaust. Its certainly no more of a problem, had to come out with the exact same formulation, but
you have the same problem with the pump up sprayers its got the vegetable label and it is called OxiDate.
if youve got two or three rows and if the wind is blow- It is a hydrogen peroxide type. There is some good
ing there is some drift. Whenever you spray anything proprietary stuff I dont know.
there is always a concern with drift. No more than, I
dont think, any more than most things. I use it a lot in the greenhouse. We do a lot of sub ir-
rigation and to keep the water clean and to keep algae
Q: How do you calibrate a mist sprayer? from forming, as a disinfectant it has been wonderful.
But because of it being a disinfectant it does kill spores
A: Thats what I say its really a tough thing. The on contact. It has got no residual effect. You spray it,
very best thing to do is fill it up with water, walk down 10 minutes later its gone. But as a disinfectant for
whatever area you are going to be doing. Some of it is some of the bacterial diseases, fungus and stuff I think
going to depend on, do you like to stroll, do you want it has a point.
to just take your time or are you willing to walk as fast
as you can walk. It all depends on your pace to how But again, as a person I dont know if I have mentioned
long the water lasts. So if you know an area and go and this but as a grower I have always hated to spray. If I
spray that so you know OK thats a quarter acre. Now can avoid spraying, I will do anything to avoid spray-
you know if you can only do half of that well then. ing. I read the label, just about six or seven years
You are only doing a quarter of it so its all individual, ago, I bought this stuff because we had smut, it was
its going to depend. determined to be smut on our cosmos that we use as a
real good cut-your-own flower. When you are cutting
Some people it takes some knowledge, because you and you go cutting down the row and it looks a lot like
can adjust the droplets going in there. So you can powdery mildew but I identified it as smut. Anyway
make flow fast so you see a bunch of material or you it was starting to take over a row and my wife said
can make it flow so you almost dont see that there is do something with it. I looked at this label and I said,
anything coming out. So its all in your comfort, but God, it says spray three days in a row and then spray
many people make the mistake of using this and to do once a week for the next two or three weeks. So thats
a half acre they would fill up the tank eight times. It is a lot of spraying.
just too much work. Once you get a little comfortable
with it concentrate that spray material, but you have Part of the theory is there is now a sodium, a potassium
to gain the experience. bicarbonate. There are a number of products out there
and ZeroTol is kind of in this same category. Part of the
In the greenhouse I have gotten to the point where I reason they said to spray three times is 90% coverage
know, because out in the fields they talk about so many is not good enough for a lot of these diseases and even
pounds per acre. You know all of us small farmers we some of the insects. If you are doing apple trees and
are doing a couple hundred of row feet, how much of have mite problems. If you dont get 100% coating
an acre is that. In the greenhouse everything is done on the tree for mites or 100% coverage for some of
by amount of material per hundred gallons. Well Ive these soft biologicals, the diseases multiply so fast you

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almost might as well not bother. So you need 100% Q: Does the mist blower work with Surround?
coverage. The way to get 100% coverage, since the
stuff is basically harmless, they have you spray three A: I used it. I also painted the car beside me and it took
times in a row. So that you hit it one day and now you a while for that whitewash to come off. I have no idea
have got 80% of the plant, and you hit it again and you what label rate I used. I called up the manufacturer, I
get some more, you hit it again and you might get the go look, because the concept is not to be used a low
rest. With the mist blower, I went through, and its got volume. I more or less said well I have got to make it
the advantage that it does a better job. You hit the front thick, but I cant be too thick to go through the nozzle.
side of the plant and it tends to draw back around. But I I forget what rate I used, but Im fairly impressed by
went back around the rows and hit from one direction, how well it performed and the reason I did it with the
the next day I went and made sure that my application mist blower is you just cannot get disturbance. You
was going the opposite way. Dr. Wick, he didnt think are only going to be painting the tops and sides of the
that we would get rid of it. leaves. What I would consider if you are doing it in
flats, I dont know if anybody has tried this as a dip,
That cleaned that crop up and let us get a harvest and whether or not you could make a solution and dip
near the end of the season I saw it starting to come the flat in so that you have got the stuff soaked. That
back again, but by then it didnt matter so much. I might even be a better way and not as messy either.
dont think it is a Godsend. I dont think there has been We had two hay wagons full of flats and I just stood
much research done on it. But two years ago I tried it, up and stood back and just painted the trailer and then
I used one cup of OxiDate per tankful and with one we took them out to the field a couple of days later
tankful I could do about four 500-foot rows. So I just and planted them.
walked down pretty quick. Easy to fill up, easy to go
spray it. Five or six days later do it again. I didnt do Q: What crop and pest were you using Surround
any trials. Its like all right its late in the season, the on?
dew is on the plants until 11:00 in the morning, the
dew is back on at 4:00 in the afternoon. It is a tough A: For striped cucumber beetle before we put them
time for tomatoes and we never got around to staking out in the field. That was something that Ruth had
these particular tomatoes up. They are Mountain Fresh, thought might work and I said Hey Im a farmer, we
which is a nice tomato, just coming into production. try anything.
There is always foliage cramped down in. Ive got to
get something in there and I do not like using copper Q: What do you do for powdery mildew control?
sulfate. I avoid it like the plague if I can. I use it very
very little. It worked for me and I dont know if it is A: Nothing. Variety selection, rotation, but no I cant.
the answer but I had it, I liked the results. A lot of The big crops that could be a problem with powdery
farming is like that. You guys must do the same thing, mildew there is no way I am going to think about go-
try things. Is that enough of an answer for OxiDate. ing and spray. I mean I possibly could, but I have not
found it to be a serious enough issue to worry about
Q: How much does it cost? it. Benign neglect works pretty good for most things.
I just dont worry about it to a large extent. If I saw it
A: Very expensive, I believe it is a hundred and some- on a high value crop I would use the OxiDate. I think
thing dollars for a 2 1/2 gallon jug. You dont need it would work. I dont see those kinds of disease pres-
a whole lot on the rates. I use so much of it on the sures enough. When I am thinking of powdery mildew,
greenhouse operation I buy it by the 15 gallon drum I am thinking of it primarily on the pumpkin leaves at
which brings it down a little bit. Its just now being the end of the season start getting white, and zucchinis
released, they just got a new product for sanitation, and stuff like that. We dont lose enough fruit to worry
for a wash dip. If you wanted to dip your tomatoes, about it too much from my experience.
or dip things for helping to preserve instead of using
chlorine or whatever, this is now registered and it is Q: What are your favorite three tomato varieties?
certified it will be an OMRI approved product. I think
it is basically the same material. A: Three? Oh, well its not any individual. So I may
grow four or five different types that I plant for an

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early planting that I will pick for the farm as an early Q: What kind of tomato diseases are you running
tomato. Early Cascade I use, and some of the cherry into?
tomatoes. I have never liked Early Girl. But there is a
new one this year I have done. Names I cant remem- A: The primary disease that I am worried about is I
ber, but there is a new version of Early Girl out there think late blight. I have not identified it. Late in the
that I think. No never done those. Everybody has their season, I think everybody, especially if you are picking
different areas. off plants that have been being harvested for a while.
You are coming into cultural conditions where you just
Well Mountain Fresh I consider to be a late tomato, dont have much daylight. Late August and getting in
and when I first saw Mountain Fresh, this is getting to September the plants arent even dry until 10:00 or
off of the subject, but that is probably okay. Mountain 11:00 in the morning. The period of leaf wetness is just
Fresh scared me when I first saw the tomato because the incredible. The temperature is up and the amount of
plants were gorgeous, huge and healthy, the tomatoes disease that is blowing around in the field from your
looked good and I was worried that when I bit into it, fields, your neighbors fields or your earlier plantings
it would be like some of these tomatoes looks great is a problem.
but the skin is still in your mouth after you chew it up.
It is a firm flesh, but I thought it was quite acceptable Q: Are you thinking late blight or early blight?
flavor and the customers dont seem to mind it so I am
real impressed. A: Early blight is the more common tomato disease
and then late blight is a really devastating tomato
We grow almost all determinant varieties. I used to disease that comes in kind of sporadically. Some
do trellising and I wish I had the time because some years we have it and some years we dont but that
years the trellised tomatoes, some years the ones on really common one that we get every year is early
the ground or on short stakes work better. It depends blight. Dont worry about that earliness or lateness
on the year and amount of rain or dryness. Ideally you part of the name.
do a little bit of all of these different things. We are
primarily doing short stake. We have done the Best It is a blight and it comes in late. I am sure Abby is
Boy, Bush Big Boy, it is a Burpee one that has been right. I dont need to identify all these things exactly.
pretty good. So it is not the old fashioned Big Boy it is I know it is a problem and I am trying to learn ways
a dwarf version with more disease resistance. I gave up to deal with those individual problems.
Mountain Pride for Mountain Fresh. A lot less disease
issues, much healthier plant. Very similar tomato we Beneficials we talked about these. Do many people
just have had better luck with it. buy or are many people working on beneficials? Using
beneficials? Buying in Trichogrammas?
The big secret or what I am trying to convey is not so
much variety as being sure that whatever you choose Q: When you bring beneficials into the greenhouse
to plant for early tomatoes you know that those early how long before you see results?
tomatoes do not last. Some of them do not taste good
or the plants get tired, they get early blight. We do A: Part of the trick in the greenhouses and for pre-
this with many crops, beans, zucchini. You succession ventative measure is you want to not wait. Thrips is
plant. The thing is you do not want to succession plant probably the number one problem in the greenhouse.
side by side by side because that disease is just follow- Last year was the first year that I went to 100% using a
ing you right along or the insects. The big thing is to beneficial mite. I was real nervous because I hunted all
isolate some of these earlier plantings from your main season long and never saw any. I spent probably $1000
season plantings from your later plantings so that you on these beneficial insects and never saw them. The
have a chance. Whether it is insects you are trying to only thing I know for sure is that it just could not be
avoid or disease. To a large extent I think it is disease the first year in 15 years that the thrips just magically
for tomatoes in particular. With good cultural practices did not show up. I am pretty sure. That is the problem
you can avoid many, many of these problems. with the beneficials. Research people can get out there
and put them in a cage and count how many holes are
in the leaf and some of this stuff. We cant do that. I

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looked at the research. It looked promising. I did it on are sprayed with a pesticide it is a biological, but for
a small scale a year before. I felt fairly comfortable the last couple of years having the beneficial wasps
and I continued scouting. take care of the aphids I have not had to spray them,
I used to have terrible problems with the peppers and
I have to say with the thrips I had to stop using my eggplant, aphids all over them. Even when you could
blue sticky cards in the greenhouse because I also use rotenone pyrethrin it is just like two days later they
released a little while later an aphid predator which are covered in aphids again. Releasing these wasps,
is a wasp so they are highly mobile. I looked at my there is some aphid. It is not 100% clean but I dont
traps for the thrips and they were just loaded with need 100% clean. When this stuff goes out to the field,
my expensive beneficial wasps so I said I would if you dont have a big population it gets cleaned up
just monitor by eye. I am extremely impressed in a on its own. As long as its kept in control that is good
greenhouse operation. I have cut my chemical use enough.
down to where I spray almost no pesticide. It is not
an organic greenhouse operation, but I spent probably Q: Do you have European corn borer problems
$4,000 on beneficials and only sprayed a very small with your peppers?
amount of pesticide.
A: No, I dont know if you heard Abby, she was
Q: Are you doing any greenhouse sanitation to wondering about European corn borer in my peppers.
manage pests? For about the last 10 or 15 years I have been releasing
Trichogramma pretiosium as a what if. Everybody
A: Most of my greenhouse operation we set up a said they might work on European corn borer in the
sub-irrigation, it is a plug floor so that the plants are corn and it turned out with research they really do
growing on the ground on a concrete, basically a pad. not do a damn thing. Historically, I always released
And the water comes up from below and waters them them in the peppers too and I would have some mag-
so again it is a cultural thing. The leaves are never wet, got problems some years but whenever I released the
the plants are never wet and that eliminates, I dont Trichogramma pretiosium I didnt seem to have much
have to worry about shore flies and fungus gnats. The borer in the peppers.
soil surface stays dry it is being pulled up from the
bottom. One year I listened to someone who said they really
are not doing anything but I did not release any ben-
ZeroTol is in the tank mix so that it pretty much eficials. We virtually did not have a pepper crop that
means that I do not have to worry about pathogens in year. Again I am a farmer, I dont know for sure what
the irrigation water and I may be even getting some was going on but I went back to releasing and then
beneficial effects because it does kill spores. Common last year I released Trichogramma ostriniae because
sense in the green house, sanitation, keep it clean, they are a much more efficient predator for corn borer
air manipulation, keep the humidity at proper levels. and I released by nature. I did a release in the peppers
Thats part of common sense greenhouse manage- and my corn and I had very nice peppers. Im going
ment. Yes, we do all of those things, which does cut to let the researchers, which they are going to set up
down the need for fungicides, the need for a lot of the trials and go look and count and that sort of thing.
these things. But in our large commercial, weve got But I firmly believe, and they are not very expensive
a half-acre of greenhouse so it is in a quarter of an any more. They are about $15.00 an acre. You go set a
acre range of greenhouse the scale is a little bit larger couple things up, you do that a couple of times in the
than you might have. season, you are all done.

If I was growing just for the farm and just my own Q: Any problem with eggplant flea beetles?
tomatoes and peppers and stuff I could manage it en-
tirely organic, because diseases are not an issue with A: Yes, once in a while and it is usually just the young
those. It is the flowering plants that you have got the plants when you first set them out. Oftentimes it is
petals falling and then Botrytis sets in and you can only, we will do most of our eggplants and peppers on
just lose a lot of value in a lot of crop. My vegetables black plastic. Then we have a pick your own field near
and stuff are never sprayed with fungicides. If they the stand and it doesnt get taken care of as well so we

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want to be able to easily till it under when it is done. beneficial mites from a number of different places and
So we will put some stuff in bare dirt. These plantings most of them are reared overseas and then shipped
are different so it may be because of the separation, but back here. Shipping is a big thing so find a company
on our farm it doesnt matter where you plant things that produces and can ship them properly.
that flea beetles like, they are there. But in that field,
that year the ones that were in bare dirt, I had to spray We buy a jar and they are supposed to have 100,000
them. They went into the ground and they got covered, mites in them. The researchers actually took a sample
I mean you just look at the plant and the whole poor and counted them out and these things are microscopic.
little plant is black with flea beetles. They werent go- Koppert constantly had the highest count and the price
ing to make it. There was no problem with the ones on is all competitive. I have had very good luck with them.
the plastic. I dont know why for sure.
I did buy my Trichogramma ostriniae from IPM labs
For the most part what we have learned to do, and again here in New York. Things like the Trichogramma I
we are not wholesalers, we have the bedding plant have a number of sources but Kopperts has been most
business, I dont feel that we need to be the first on the reliable. They are a Dutch company I believe. They
market with a crop. So we have started not struggling have a couple of outlets here in the U.S. and they are
so much to get things in the ground early, and I think often at some of the trade shows and things. They are
that makes a huge difference on whether the pest is quite big. They are an excellent resource.
there or whether the plant is a little bit bigger and it
grows so much faster when it gets to the ground that it Mike Hoffmann mentioned this earlier, or maybe he
grows out of the susceptible stage that much quicker. didnt, that when you are using beneficials especially
It takes away a lot of the problems. It can make a huge in the greenhouse, but also in the field you are really
difference to some other operation so that is why what limited what you dare spray and not affect your benefi-
works for me is not necessarily best. cials. In the greenhouse your crop cycle may be only
eight weeks. Something like Sevin which I know none
I would consider some other things. Sometimes there of you guys use, I just happen to know this statistic.
are things we want to have early. We put them out there Sevin is still able to kill the beneficial eight weeks
and they are under row cover. The bulk of the crop later or ten weeks later so it is not like you have time
will go in a couple of weeks later somewhere else. to spray material and then you can put your beneficial
We are doing that more and more, especially with the on. These materials, some persist for a long time.
pumpkins and things. We used to do direct seed and
some years that was great but if you get a wet cold Kopperts has, it is like Spinosad is supposedly listed
spring and we lost an entire 5-6 acre crop of pumpkins as soft on some of the beneficials yet it is really scary
and squash and whatever one year. The plants just sat because it has a really broad spectrum. How can it be
there at the cotyledon stage for weeks. We must have soft on the good guys? Koppert anyway has a web
sprayed seven times with rotenone pyrethrin walking page where they have done a lot of research to show
those acres but it didnt matter. The plants werent depending on which beneficial you are using what
growing. The striped cucumber beetle was just there materials might be okay so you can help with some
and feeding and the field was done. We have gone of your choices.
back, as much as we do not like dealing with plastic
and stuff, we have backed off. We do transplants, let Again, organic growers do not have many choices. Out
them get decent size and instead of putting them in in the field the biggest choice is whether to spray or not
late May, first week of June we are putting them in spray. As far as the value of the crop and in general,
the second to third week in June. It has solved some often times my wife and I will go out and see aphids
of those problems for us. just covering these plants but with closer inspection
60-70 percent of those aphids have mummified already
Q: Where do you buy your beneficials? and there are other beneficials crawling all over the
place. Ignore it at that point, they are not doing any
A: I buy a lot from Koppert. I am sure there is a web economical damage at that point. They are going to be
site for them. There are a number of places. Working under control next week. It seems to work.
with U-Mass extension they bought some of these

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[Editors note: A list of suppliers of beneficial organ- this was the thing to do by other flower growers that
isms can be found on the web: < have been doing it longer. I am surprised frankly that
gov/docs/ipminov/bensuppl.htm>. The URL for the most people do not know about it.
Koppert web site is: <http://www.>.]
It has been talked about at so many meetings that is
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your cutting really the way to sell the flowers and to a large extent,
garden? Tell how it enhances your stand and then flowers are not like food. People do not have to buy
how you sell the flowers to people. flowers, they want to. They dont care what they pay.
It really pisses me off well be a nickel higher than
A: When we very first started selling at farmers mar- the place down the street and the customer will go
kets, the first year we sold things I raised some apples there instead. The same guy will be in in the fall and
and the lady at the stall next to us always brought flow- spend $100 on a couple of pumpkins and cornstalks,
ers. It didnt matter if it was a rainy week or whatever. Indian corn, whatever. It doesnt matter it is not food.
Some weeks we would sell our apples, some weeks we Food is cheap. It is an ongoing battle and you guys are
wouldnt. She always sold her flowers. My wife loves all organic trying to get the value added and that extra
flowers. She said, I am doing flowers. money but it is an issue that doesnt go away.

Ever since we started a little garden a few bouquets With the flowers you keep it simple, come up with
of flowers have been part of what is for sale on our something that you think is fair by the pound but re-
stand and then we have gone into this pick your own ally think about it. We will make an arranged bouquet
thing. Over the years we have found that pick-your- that I think my wife sells for $12. It is a big bouquet,
own vegetables is almost more trouble than it is worth. a little on the pricey side but it takes a bunch of time.
There are a few crops that I think are valuable, some It is not just a group of flowers; its an arranged flower
of the greens, some of the herbs but a lot of the stuff group. We also sell by the stem so they are sold retail.
is almost more confusion and more hassle than it is So she just takes some of her flowers, she knows her
worth. We have always had a cut your own flower time and I think she has come with about $7-8 per
garden right out behind the farm. We work pretty hard pound as what we are currently charging for flowers.
to keep it looking nice.
All of you people that are doing pick your own. Flow-
It is a funny thing but the customers who are coming to ers are not the same problem so I encourage, especially
cut your own flowers are just wonderful people it seems if you like flowers. It is always nice. They were talking
like. We will have wedding parties out there, we have about having nectar sources. Goldfinches love cosmos.
mothers that come in to the shop whose daughters are You get a row of cosmos and there are goldfinch flying
out with some scissors cutting a small bouquet. What all over the place. Having flowers in your operation,
does therapy cost $40-$70 an hour and these people you can think of it as a money source and as a food
will just hang out there for an hour and cut five or six source for your beneficials. That is a good way to do
stems. They love it, they dont trash the place. Once it. Any more questions?
in a while there are a few flower species we grow that
are too valuable to sell with the rest of them so we It is hard as a farmer and some of you hopefully will
hide some of that, but for the most part they are there get asked to come to speak at some things. Get over it
and we have learned after listening to a lot of talks and get up here and do it.
that cut-your-own flowers are a part of a lot of farm
operations and how you sell them. Q: What kinds of flowers do you grow?

The way you sell them is you sell them by the pound A: It is all the ones that grow easily snap dragons,
like everything else. Develop a price. The customer cosmos, marigolds, zinnias, asters. Asters are a little bit
comes in with their bouquet, they take them out of the tough, but we grow a bunch. We do a bunch of dried
pan and you do not have to sit there and count each one flower stuff too straw flowers, statice and we do lark-
out. Put them on the scale, $7.00 a pound and out the spur but we grow that somewhere separate because it
door. Wrap them up and theyre gone. We have been is so light and so valuable. Lisianthus is a flower that
doing this for at least four or five years but I heard that I love. It is a little bit difficult to grow, I buy plugs

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and baby them. They go into a separate place because inputs, flowers will be way, way up there compared
Lisianthus can sell for $1 or so a stem, just a single to some of the other crops that you grow and struggle
stem at wholesale. At $7 a pound you would not make with.
enough money, but as a cut flower it can last for two
weeks in a vase without changing the water. There is a Q: Are your flowers organic?
lot of good resources I am sure on the web. There are
cut flower associations. There is a lot out there. Some A: No, they are not. Probably the only thing they are
of it is what you like. Some of it is what fits into your not is the potting soil. Whether or not you are getting
operation. It is kind of unlimited. some of the people who are starting to produce organic
transplants for people. Whether you can get them to do
Next year, there will be some talk on cut flowers at some Lisianthus. It is a tricky one to germinate. This is
the New England Vegetable convention. It is a popular part of the flower and part of the greenhouse operation.
subject of a lot of us, especially the retail or direct retail I order some Lisianthus trays in when I am buying the
type markets. Like I say, you bring some bouquets rest of my stuff. We do not start those ourselves. That
along with you to farmers markets and watch those is a new problem for you guys. They will have to stick
bouquets sell. If you ever do some cost equations on to that for that government mandated never mind I
amount of money you make per acre for the same wont go there!

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Pest Management from a Farmers Perspective

Transcript of a presentation by:

David Marchant
River Berry Farm
Fairfax, Vermont

My wife Jane Sorenson and I farm in northwestern Here is a picture of the farm. Again it is all river bottom
Vermont. We bought the farm about 11 years ago. land, sandy soils, not a stone on the farm and we have
Before that I worked a little bit at U-Mass research about a mile and a half of river frontage so irrigation
farm and before that I spent a little time at Cornell so is pretty easy. We looked for a long time. Everyone
I got to know Abby and what not, so it is kind of fun says we are lucky. But it is not all luck. It took us
to get back and see old faces. We have an old dairy about three years to find a place suited for what we
farm, about 150 acres and we grow about 40 acres in were looking for.
vegetables and then some strawberries and then cover
crops and straw. We are located right on the Lamoille There is the river, Lamoille River, that is high spring,
River which drains into Lake Champlain. I am very it will flood every once in while and we have had
close to New York State, I am probably only about some problems with that, but water is usually not a
15 miles as the crow flies from Plattsburgh. We are in problem for us to get. There is some of the bottomland
the Champlain Valley so while we are fairly far north you can see and it is all sandy hills up on the right and
our climate is pretty decent for vegetable production. all bottomland and the river just kind of follows the
whole farm. Apologies for some of the photographs,
As I go on in terms of the pest stuff you notice I talk some of these are actually slides taken of pictures so
about being far north actually in terms of organic they are not exposed just right. This will give you an
production I think we have a lot of advantages. Right idea of the place.
now we have about three acres of pick-your-own straw-
berries. Those are not certified organic, they are IPM I will just start going through the crops that we do and
managed. We have got it down to approximately one kind of the pest problems that we have and what we
spray for tarnished plant bug with a Malathion typi- do. We do a lot of bedding plants and that seems to
cally and anything else is certified organic. These are be growing. Like a lot of you probably we are getting
some of the crops we do, a lot of kale and collards. A suburbanized and houses are being built all around us
lot of these are switching as market kind of influences and we said well, I guess we just need to take advantage
our change. We do a lot of winter squash still. Our leaf of it. So, we started to get into bedding plants and it
lettuce is changing completely, we are doing very little. keeps growing and becomes a bigger part of it. As the
Cabbage and carrots are big and greenhouse and tunnel former speaker was saying, people will pay whatever
tomatoes are getting bigger for us. for flowers and whatnot. We said we cant fight it, we
might as well join it.

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My wife runs this operation pretty much. All of our and go right through until Thanksgiving and it really
greenhouses are ground to ground greenhouses, fairly works out well for us. We just dont even deal with
low tech. We kind of got into it cheap and as the years field tomatoes except for some paste tomatoes I put
go by, when we put up houses now we do it a little bit in for myself.
better each time. When you are first getting started it
is hard to put up a full range. In terms of pest control Our major pests are Botrytis, Fusarium, root problems
we make our own mix and this is a soil mixer that we because we are in houses that do not necessarily rotate
bought out of Canada. It is a pot filler and soil mixer. out every year we can get some root disease problems.
We make our own compost and we use along with Whitefly as well. You can see some of the things that
about 30% compost, peat and vermiculite mix. We we do and I will show you some pictures of stuff that
simply put the pots here, there is a foot pedal that you we do. For Botrytis, actually I picked up some tips
step on and the mix is in here. It mixes a yard at a time. when I was at this conference a couple of years ago
We do a lot of flats for our field production so it is a and they talked about sanitation of the complete house
fabulous machine and it is really reasonably priced. that I hadnt thought about. We use OxiDate as well and
I just got information from BioSafe who produces it
It is interesting, you look at a lot of the equipment and and it is not NOP approved but they are reformulating
it is for big operations and there are some places in it to get rid of the inerts and there will be a product
Canada that actually make smaller scaled equipment this year that is available. We actually spray the entire
that really is suitable for operations like ours. Instead of house with OxiDate, the plastic, the metal, everything,
$20,000 it is more like $7,000 or $8,000, so it became just to get rid a lot of inoculum. It definitely seems
fairly cost effective. to be making a big difference. That as well as proper
ventilation. Root rot problems can be a big problem
We use T-22, it has been talked about a lot, in all our in greenhouse tomato production and we have gone
mix. It is hard to say, we were using compost in our to grafting. We graft all our own tomato plants now.
mix, and maybe we are throwing money away but it It is a very simple system that we got out of Canada.
just gives us a consistency in terms of damping off
problems. Sometimes we have inexperienced people It is funny because we are a real anomaly, everyone
watering and we get overwatering happening and we milks cows and you are not a farmer unless you milk
seem to prevent a lot of soil problems by using the a cow in Vermont, but you go across about an hour
T-22, so we use it in everything and it seems to work north and there is about 20,000 acres of vegetable
very well for us. It is not cheap, but with the mixer it production just southwest of Montreal. So, there are a
is easy to mix in so it is right there in the mix so as lot of resources for us. Some of the resources are the
soon as you water then you start getting the effective- greenhouse tomato facilities and it is a very simple sys-
ness from it. This is some of the plug production we tem of producing a root stock that is resistant to some
do. We vacuum seed, we do a lot of brassicas, a lot of the diseases and a desired top and just using these
of kale, collards, cabbage, about 10-15 acres total of little plastic clips and cutting them with a little razor
those crops and this is it where we are just setting up blade. Youve got a tray of tops, youve got a tray of
and germinating. We even use T-22 in all our field root stock and you put one on top of the other and you
transplants mixes as well. This is when we first got can see a nice grafting right there. You just put the clip
started, before we even had decent benches. A real right over the graft and we put them in the hoods and
mixed hodgepodge of field transplants. that is the key right there, these high domes, it keeps
the humidity high and we probably get 85-90% take.
One thing I would point out is the old window fan and It is a very simple, quick way to do it. It works well.
we now have HAF, but in terms of disease control I We do it for root disease problems, Fusarium. Some
swear by HAF fans and air movement. Our next big of the root stock of the greenhouse tomatoes the vigor
crop besides bedding plants is tomatoes. For us toma- is unbelievable, you get higher production, they are a
toes are greenhouse tomatoes and tunnel tomatoes. lot more tolerant to a lot of the root disease problems
Some of our major pests that we have to deal with are and we find we get a lot longer life out of our tomato
different than field tomatoes. We are fairly far north so plants with the grafting.
there are a lot of people that do produce field tomatoes
but we are starting to pick about the third week of June

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Question: What rootstock do you use for your February, we plant the tomato houses late March so we
greenhouse tomatoes? know if we are going to see any whitefly it will tend to
show up first in the bedding plant houses, so we really
We have gone to Beaufort, we used Kyndia which keep a tight eye on that because they tend to move
you used to be able to get out of Johnnys and I have a from one house to the next. The nice thing about being
catalog that is called Group Horticale le Doux, I have far north, I kind of pray for those 20 degree nights
the seed catalog here out of Quebec and we have gone because the houses get to be 20 and a lot of things
to Beaufort and they have another one coming out this just dont like it that cold. The other thing that we do
year that we might try. It is just amazing, these things a lot of is we have a controlled temperature room, we
are like trees. It is unbelievable. So, we put everything keep it right around 50 degrees so if we get long, we
in to a four inch pot. can hold them, we are picking them at a breaker stage
so we can hold them. It is a nice crop, you have a lot
Here is one of our greenhouse tomatoes, very small, of control, and flavor wise people seem to love them.
simple houses, 25 ft. houses, 25 ft. x 150 ft. We run I know field tomatoes some people swear by, but we
eight rows, you can get two rows per bed, but this is go this way.
the way we try to get it really clean, spray the whole
thing down. You can see we use these HAF. These The other thing we do is tunnel tomatoes: unheated
are cheap HAF out of Graingers. The plastic ones greenhouses. I am sure a lot of people here use kind
are about $45 instead of the typical $140 and if you of walk in tunnels, no heat, roll up sides, cheap struc-
look at the specs they are identical to the metal ones. tures, throw a piece of plastic on it. We like to use
When you start putting four or six in a house it saves Ultrasweet in these and we typically do basket weave
you a lot of money. You can see we are getting ready trellis system. Something like that four rows, drip
to plant. We typically use T-22 in the soil, to just to tape and you walk away and come back once a week
give it a little extra protection. This is actually not our and string them and pick tomatoes. A very good way
house, but this is how we do it, growing them on string. to go. We start in March with our greenhouse tomatoes
We have a lot more pathway than this. This is a little and then we get this big production June or July. When
tight, but we just wanted to show you. I do not have they start to slow down these tunnels come in and we
a lot of great slides. I havent taken a picture in about actually rip out an old bedding plant house and plant
five years it seems like. We do trellis everything up on another crop in mid-July so we get a really nice fresh
twine, as well. Everything is shipped out. We wholesale crop coming in September and October. The reason I
everything in to the Burlington area and we just have do not grow tomatoes outside is because in the green-
two stores that will pretty much take everything we house we never have any early blight, we never have
can grow and we sell at one farmers market and that any Septoria, we never have any disease problems
is about it. The nice thing is we have a small stand like this (slide). We dont have to grade through our
with the pick-your-own strawberries and the farmers tomatoes. We pick right into the boxes, number ones,
market we can send all the B-product. We hardly number twos. Botrytis we do have to deal with. A little
throw anything out. Last year I dont think I threw out bit different pest complexes that you have to deal with
more than 100 pounds of tomatoes of overproduction, in the houses and the tunnels, but you keep your leaves
because we just couldnt keep up, so it is something dry and I dont grow field tomatoes, that is basically
that is worthwhile for us and pest-wise we have been what it amounts to.
able to deal with it.
Question: What is T22?
The other thing I talked about is we introduce a lot, we
do use Encarsia for whitefly and for aphid control we T-22 is a Trichoderma product that is produced here in
often use the Hippodamia, the lady bug that is pretty Geneva through BioWorks. We get it through Griffin
cheap to start with and also if we see a hot spot we Greenhouse, but Seedway has it as well. It is a ben-
may bring in lacewings, some of the more expensive eficial, soilborne fungus. It is actually a protectant in
predators a little bit, but we scout and we use yellow a lot of ways, competitive protectant, it will compete
sticky cards within the houses to monitor for whitefly. at infection sites, so in other words it can out compete
We are doing that in the bedding plant houses, so it is Pythium or some of the damping off things and also I
kind of a progression. We start the bedding houses in will talk about its use in strawberries a little bit.

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Pick-your-own strawberries plunks, plunks as the tractor goes along. It is a really

quick easy way to do it. We had it set up there for the
annual culture strawberries. We do some trap moni-
Next crops pick your own strawberries. They are not toring for tarnished plant bug in strawberries. We use
certified organic. I tried a number of years with differ- these white sticky traps just to get an idea when they
ent organic blocks in terms of the tarnished plant bug are flying. It is hard to say. Some people say they dont
and I have still not come up with a successful way to work, but it is nice to be able to go to a spot and say,
control them. We have got it down to about one spray, oh, they are there now, I better start trying to pay at-
but you can see here some of the pick-your-own straw- tention to them. As I said, we play with a lot of ideas.
berry fields. We dont do a lot, we can only really sell
about three to four acres of pick your own. We have Here we are releasing a predatory egg parasite of tar-
a lot of other people growing them around us. It is a nished plant bug called a Anaphes iola and they use it
good draw and it is part of our farm name so we have out on the west coast for organic strawberry produc-
to grow them now, I guess. tion. The problem is we are shooting in the dark. We
use their release rate. It is fairly expensive and we just
We are starting to play with plug production and an- dont know if it is working. I would love it if someone
nual strawberry culture, plastic culture. I am sure a lot could pick it up in the east and start working on it
of you guys have heard about this. I am talking about because with biocontrols it just takes a lot of research
strawberries, I know it is a vegetable workshop but I and a lot of time and it is so different out in California
did look at my New York survey of vegetable crops that it is hard to know if it is really working. We tried
and strawberries are listed in the vegetable section so them a couple of years and I really did not get satis-
I figured it counts. I know a lot of vegetable growers factory control, so I stopped spending the money and
grow strawberries. We have been playing with this said once somebody starts really researching it maybe
plastic culture. It is interesting. we can go back to it. I think it has promise, but it is a
parasitic wasp and it lays its egg inside the egg of the
Different pest problems. We get some different soft tarnished plant bug so it is a nice stage it is attacking
rots on the fruit where it is laying on the plastic. An- it in. The nymph is what we get most of our problems
thracnose seems to be a little more of a problem. It is from. It is hitting it before the pests can cause a lot of
an interesting system, I think it doesnt work for pick- damage. That is why I think it has real good potential.
your-own because it is a very spread out type of ripen-
ing system that works great I think if you are trying to We do grow a lot of our own straw. There is a rye
use it for planting for a retail operation, picking and vetch crop and we just have it custom combined for
resale. We have tried to send some pick-your-owners us; it seems to be another way to avoid some weed
into the plastic culture and they kind of walked around. pest problems. Not insect and disease pest problems,
You get a berry here and a berry there and it produces but by growing our own straw either if we combine it
over a very long period of time, but they were a little or sometimes grow it to seed head stage and cut it and
frustrated. It is kind of a fun way and it is a totally dif- bale it that way, so that we do not get seed production.
ferent way and you can get high production. They keep Then you do not have any kind of volunteers at all.
quoting these huge numbers down in New Jersey and
as you go further north it seems to be less and less. I
think it has promise and a lot of growers in Vermont Vegetable crops
are playing with it and we will see where it ends up.

You can see there we are using row covers. There is Next on to some of the vegetable crops. Leaf and
talk about row covers that Ruth talked about and we romaine lettuce. This is what we used to do and the
have gone to the plastic bags, sand filled bags and we wholesale prices have kind of been pretty dismal. We
really like it. For some reason it just does not blow up are doing less of this, but typically what we would do
out of it like a shovel load of dirt. Even though it is is start in late April and we would plant every week
not secured everywhere it just doesnt move and it is until about mid-August. Three rows per bed, 18 inches
amazing how they work. So we will just go down with between rows, 15 inches between plants. It is fairly
an apple bin full of bags and somebody just plunks, wide spacing. It certainly helps with disease problems.

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Our major pest is Rhizoctonia bottom rot, it is always green and red leaf planted. Our raised beds are actually
a problem for us. We rotate which seems to help. We higher now. We have a better bed shaper.
are using raised beds now. This past year we had very
little problems and we had real high raised beds. Who
knows if it had anything to do with it. We tried using Deer fencing
T-22, watering it in, seeing if it would be a protectant.
In other words if you could get it growing down there
it would out compete the Rhizoctonia and I dont know Here is some of the deer fencing. Here is a field you
if it works or not, but we have tried it. can see getting ready to be cut. We have a lot of prob-
lems with deer. You can see we have a lot of woods
Other major pests tarnished plant bug is a major pest around us and they would love to come in. I went to
in the summertime in lettuce so we try to hide. In other a guy who specializes in fencing and we started with
words we move it around some if the plantings and I these tall white posts, New Zealand system and went
often think that sometimes you just have to assume with seven strands. It really did work. I put them out
some large losses on one or two plantings. You dont at an angle and we baited them with peanut butter on
know which one it is going to hit, but if you are trying aluminum foil and now I am down to just two strands.
to have a consistent market you just kind of figure that
is going to happen. We tried not to do much romaine What I have discovered for our deer pressure and I
towards the mid-summer, late-summer and fall when know it is a lot different in parts of New York State
they really like to hammer the ribs a lot. were it is really heavy, but, I have dealt a lot with deer
and what I have discovered is that if it is changing they
Aphids can be a problem. We have had them flare up in wont get used to it and cause you problems. So, in
the late summer and we have had luck with the neem other words we will come in and protect this crop and
product. That did seem to work. Downy mildew is as soon as it is harvested we will move the fence. We
also a real problem with romaine and we just stopped spent a lot of money on a permanent fence around the
growing fall romaine. It seemed to be a better solu- whole field and it was a total waste of money because
tion that trying to fight it all of the time. Tip burn is they got used to it and I didnt maintain it and they just
the other big problem and we try to irrigate regularly, plowed right through it. But, you put these things up
try not to let the soils dry out and there is starting to and you are in and out. It seems to me visually they
be a lot better breeding work now in terms of tip burn can see this, this white thing and they associate it,
tolerance. Some of the romaines now seem to be better you know, they lick this once on a nice wet morning
and some of the green leafs. I just love growing red and they get a good shock and they just dont seem
leaf, because all of the problems just seem to go away. to tolerate it. In fact I can even turn the fence off and
It doesnt seem to have nearly the problems and so we they dont even bother it. It seems to be the key. If you
tend to concentrate more on red leaf. leave it up all season then they just ignore it and start
plowing through it. For us, the key is to move it. So,
The other big problem is deer and we use portable elec- this is what we are down to. Two strands and some
tric fencing. One thing we have played with is lettuce peanut butter on aluminum foil.
produced in a tunnel. This is like the first of May and
you can see green leaf and red leaf here. We were able
to get $1,500 out of the tunnel on the real early lettuce Field packing
and then we were still able to use it for tomatoes right
after it. It is a nice way to get some extra usage out of
your investment. Here we just had overhead sprinklers. Here we are field packing. We field wash. The ef-
So, we had very little labor. Here we are transplanting. ficiency of this is marginal. I would say it is more ef-
We use a carousel planter a Lnnan planter, it is a great ficient than taking it all back and washing it, but I think
transplanter. This might be onions, but we actually use for us to be able to compete on a wholesale market to
it for everything and lettuce right now would be three do lettuce you really have to pack directly into boxes
rows. Everything is on three rows, 18 inch spacing. and use hydrocoolers to beat the prices and we just
Our cultivators are set up for one spacing and we try to decided it wasnt worth the investment. We grow it
keep them that way. Here is a lettuce field you can see now for more local markets and every once in a while

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if we get long we can ship it to our co-op. Here we bit skeptical, but after being on the place ten years
are field washing. We are able to do a good job with and managing the place I definitely see some of the
field washing, get it cool and get it into our cooler so pest cycles, the pressures reduce in general and more
we can pick a field, keep it for a week and sell it out of a balance coming on. We avoid a lot of the early
of our coolers for a week which is a big advantage for flea beetle. We do get some of that second flush that
us. We try to concentrate a lot on post harvest cause I Ruth was talking about but it is never super severe. It
think it is a real important part and it makes life a lot has become much less of a problem for us. Club root
easier and the quality of our vegetables a lot better. is the other problem and we have it. We try to keep
our equipment clean from field to field, but we do not
do a great job of keeping all the mustards down. We
Greens are starting to look at using lime to try to get the pH
up to avoid it because it is definitely a problem for us.

Another big crop for us is greens. It is funny, I was Cabbage

talking to Ruth and all the things she talked about are
all our problems. I will tell you what we do. All the Cabbage. I am going to go through all the greens and
same things. then I will show you the pictures of how we grow
them. We do a lot of cabbage. Everything is trans-
What we have gone to is we grow collards, kale as planted. We do not direct seed anything into our field
soon as we can put them into the ground until we stop in terms of brassicas. It gives us a head start in terms
picking them around the end of November sometime. of weed control. It gets the plants out there growing
Again it is everything three rows per bed, 18 inches before pests can be a major problem. We transplant
per row and 18 inches in the row. All this early spring every two to three weeks starting in early May and then
stuff we plant it out and we put wide row covers over we transplant storage cabbage end of June. Actually
it right away. It is the first thing we do. For two rea- I have gone to planting cabbage until about August
sons, one for cabbage root maggot and also for flea first just using with short season fresh market stuff
beetle. The cost of the cover is fairly expensive, but to carry me through more on a weekly basis instead
it certainly warrants it for us. Another thing that we of trying to time different late season cabbages and
have done sometimes is to just not even worry about having them all come on too early or too late. I have
weeding that crop and go in and cut that first crop and gone to something like a Columbia, like a 65-day cab-
then have another planting behind it that we tend to bage, a nice fresh market cabbage, that we can just
maintain a little bit and we are able to not have to use plant every two weeks and we get a nice consistent
a row cover quite so long so that we dont have to take supply and then we will put in a fall storage cabbage
it on and off so much. That was one thing we have had that once we are done with that crop we can get into.
success with. Major pestssame thing. We do have Alternaria
problems sometimes and we just rotate. I would say
We have a lot of imported cabbage worm. I use Bts the number one disease thing we do on our farm is
and I use a lot of Bt. That is pretty much what we do rotate. It is the first thing we can do. We would never
and I am really excited about this Spintor maybe we consider planting brassica upon brassica.
will be able to rotate it because I am starting to worry
about resistance, especially with diamondback. Dia- Broccoli
mondback is another problem we have. Flea beetles
are a problem, they used to be a major problem for Broccoli, we dont do a lot, a few acres of broccoli, we
us. I think since we started using the row covers and dont transplant it until about mid-July. We really only
listening to what Ruth said I am starting to think that go for the fall crop mainly I dont want to deal with
we are not getting the big population build up and I tarnished plant bug problems, all the brown beading
used to spray a lot rotenone and I dont spray it at all that you get. It is probably one of our major insect pest
anymore. I know I am killing a lot of beneficial with it that we cant deal with real well. We can deal with
and I guess now I cant even use it with the new NOP imported cabbage worm real well and then head rot we
standards. The flea beetles have come into more of a just got some nice Rise, Everest and Marathon, some
balance. For what everyone says I was always a little of the nice really tight beaded domed head varieties

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that seem to do really well against head rot. A little bit they pack right into the boxes. We use it on broccoli
about how we prep some of the ground. This is a rye as well, but it is a nice way to facilitate harvesting and
vetch cover crop. When I was talking to Ruth I think it make it go a little bit quicker.
might be part of our tarnished plant bug problem, too. I
seems to build up a lot of tarnished plant bug. We use We ship a lot of our brassicas through our growers
it everywhere on the farm for a nice plow down and co-op. We belong to a co-op called Deep Roots Organic
a soil builder but you get into these systems and you Co-op. We have about 12 farm members and we ship
start to realize it effects other things as well. Here we under one name and we ship into supermarket chains:
are transplanting collards again using our plug planter Whole Foods, Fresh Foods, Alberts, what used to be
and my sister and her kids were up visiting. The nice Northeast Co-ops which is now United Natural. It is a
thing about these transplanters is that very young good way for us to sell quantity but what is happening
people can use them and they love to do it. Some of is I think I am getting less now for my collards then I
our major pests you can see there imported cabbage did ten years ago through the co-op. I am starting to
worm, some of the damage. With collards and kale, rethink how much emphasis we put on our wholesale
Lacinato kale, especially, they love and you cant especially as we are able to grow some of the retail end
tolerate hardly any damage. You just cant ship it and of our operations. Even though I think we are doing
because we are shipping a lot to the supermarkets in very well with our local wholesale situation. We have
Boston and Philadelphia and DC we really cant toler- a lot of interest with organic product in Burlington.
ate much damage. We are on these spraying quite a bit, Having some of this kind of stuff really makes a big
but that is what it can look like and if its like that then difference on your product. It really makes it stand
it is too late. Cabbage root maggot you can see when out and looks nice and people seem to like it that way.
it happens and that is when we really avoid it with the Everything gets iced here you can see ice on top of
row covers and after that it doesnt seem to be a big all the greens, they go into the coolers and then they
problem for us. Club root, you I dont know if you get shipped out the next day. With this situation we
guys have all seen club root, but his is what it looks can keep them in here for five to seven days and they
like. It is not very pretty and it can really devastate a would still be beautiful. Post harvest is a really good
brassica planting pretty quickly. I think we are going place to do a lot to make farm management easier. I
to start concentrating more on liming and I have kind like post-harvest it is one of my favorite parts. I think
of just tried to keep pH on the farm general in the 6.5 I can improve my yields more in post-harvest than I
range. Im realizing now that I have to be a little bit can in a lot of other places. It makes the flexibility of
further ahead in my rotation thinking and plan where marketing a lot easier.
Im going to get brassicas and try to get the pH up.
This is an old dairy barn, an old five stall barn we put
Im starting to do some dense planting type stuff for coolers in. It is a pretty low-key operation, but it works.
crown production instead of head stuff. But again you The problem is low head height but we deal with it and
get into these tight situations and you get some other in hindsight it would be nice to put up a new building
problems, thats another way of dealing with problems but it is all in place so we use it.
is getting a crop in and out quick so while you may
be tight and you would certainly get a lot of head rot
if you let these things mature, if you get in there and Cucurbits
cut them out quick. It is a way to avoid those disease
Another big crop for us. Cucumbers, we do winter
Head rot on broccoli (slide). Im sure everyone has squash, anywhere between five and ten acres. It de-
seen that. pends on the year. We do some melons, but a small
amount. I sound like Steve because we have had some
Here we are, Im not sure what we are harvesting here. good years of direct seeding winter squash, like last
Greens, I think collard greens but we use a harvest year I said, Oh, great, my buttercup did so great the
conveyer on all of our cabbage and we pack right into year before I am going to do it again now I swear
boxes as well as, we used to use it on greens. A lot of I am never going to direct seed any winter squash, we
times now we just send pickers out with boxes and are just going to transplant. That is how we deal with

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striped cucumber beetle. We just transplant in mid-June Sweet corn

and it seems to make a huge difference. I am going
to do it with our pumpkins now, too. It is just so easy
and so quick with our transplanter to plant an acre. We grow about seven to ten acres of sweet corn and
You get such an even stand. Weed control is so much we grow certified organic sweet corn so we can actu-
better and with the striped cucumber beetle it is really ally ship a fair bit. There is a fairly good market on
a big advantage. I use a dust with 5% rotenone. I have the organic end because there is very little competition
a backpack duster and then that would work okay. I and the reason we can do is because corn earworm
have gone to a coffee can or a sock because you can is really not a major problem with us. We will get it
hit each spot. I think we might try doing some of the blown in every once in a while but we havent gone to
trap cropping and transplanting to see if we can get the Zealator applicator primarily because we are not
away with just the spot treatment. getting the real big dollars for it and time wise with
the amount of pressure we have I am not sure it is
Powdery mildew is a problem. We are starting to use worth it. Corn borer we have gone to using the wasps
some resistant varieties. I love Tay Belle it is a great that everyone has been talking about. This is our first
acorn variety, Athena is a real good one, too. It makes year and it seemed to work quite well. We do spray
a big difference with the melons. I would say powdery with Bts and with the raccoons, another big problem,
mildew is more of a problem with our melons and our we use a portable electric fence, one strand. Another
winter squash by the time powdery mildew comes into issue now is the fact you cant use any treated seed for
our winter squash we have pretty much matured our organic production. We have now started to work with
crop. Climate wise we can not produce the secondary transplanting sweet corn for the early corn so we can
flush and get things to mature. Most of our fruits are get a decent stand. We can get very early sweet corn
mature by the time mildew really becomes a problem and we tend to just retail that. I would not wholesale
whereas the melons it can seem to take them down any of that. It is a great way to grow sweet corn if you
relatively quickly. I have tried some of the potassium are havent tried it. We put two seeds per plug in about
bicarbonate sprays. I am not sure how effective they a 150 cell tray every foot. It is amazing, the corn may
are because I cant get coverage on the underside of the only be this tall but you get actually gorgeous sweet
leaves, but again with the way Steve said, it is there, I corn. If you got a good market for it is a good way to
know it is there, it probably reduces my yield some, but go and get a good early stand.
we just dont spend a lot of time managing it. Bacte-
rial wilt is a problem. We row cover our melons and Earworm is what we dont have a lot of problem with
that seems to help a lot to get them far along before and I called Ruth actually this summer and said if it
striped cucumber beetle comes in. They are on plastic comes in is it around forever and then it vanished. It
as well. Post harvest is real important. We try to store just wasnt there again, so I dont know whether not
our winter squash at 50-55, we also try to sell out by enough of it came up to be a problem. I hire a scout
about mid-December. That way we are able to kind of and that has been great. He is a friend who used to be
reduce our losses in terms of post harvest. an IPM coordinator in Michigan and so he has a small
operation and we trade things and he comes and scouts
We used to plant on plastic. I have gotten away from my corn and my brassicas for me. He said it looked
plastic on winter squash but here is a nice transplanted like we had a problem but it did not stay around for
crop. They just grow so quick once you get them on more than one planting. We scout for borer and spray
transplants. It is that cotyledon stage when striped for borer and we are able to keep it under pretty good
cucumber beetles can just wipe you out. So we just control.
decided we are just going to transplant. It does take
up some greenhouse space but you dont really need Smut I hear it is a delicacy but have not tried it. This
hardly any heat. We use the edges of the tunnels to do is a transplanted field of corn, a nice even stand that I
it and it works pretty well. You can see our melons on took a picture of.
plastic. Again, they will be row covered. They are this
big before we take the row covers off. Powdery mil-
dew, again, it just doesnt seem to be a huge problem
in terms of how we grow our cucurbits.

Insect and Disease Management 159

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Corn varieties any fungicide, any copper on the potatoes at all. We just
get them in early, try to get a lot of growth, get what
One problem we have with a variety we love, Lancelot, we can out of them. Market them at a high price early
it is extremely tender, it ships well, but you can get on and then if we get a big yield we will carry them on
blow-down problems. This year we did have a real through the fall. Our biggest problem is Rhizoctonia
blow-down problem. This is an early blow-down. It or scurf, the black dotting that you get. What we have
was kind of a physical test problem for us. Variety tried to do with that is to rotate as much as we can out
selection is something to think about. of other susceptible crops like lettuce. We found this
years potato crop was in where corn was and we had
very little Rhizoctonia problem at all. I dont know if
Sprayers that has anything to do with following corn but it is
something for us to maybe try again. That is probably
our biggest problem in terms of selling potatoes is our
We use a boom sprayer. I do not use an air blast. Air Rhizoctonia problem.
blasts are good but sometimes you do not know where
everything is going and I like to know everything is
going right on my crop. We have gone to the pack-tank Root crops
sprayer because it has a mechanical agitator. It has a
shaft right through the middle of the tank and if you
are using any kind of wettable powders it makes a huge We do about three acres of carrots, couple acres of
difference in terms of keeping things mixed up. When beets and we are still shipping carrots now. The big-
we tried to use kaolin clay it seems to work well. I have gest problem for us is Alternaria in the field. We have
also gone to being able to raise the booms and then I used copper every once in awhile. We try to use some
would put drops on this for sweet corn. It works out resistant varieties and we can also get some storage
okay as long as the corn is not super huge. There is problems with the cavity spot which I will show you
inside the tank. You can see the paddle. It turns all the as well. We direct seed everything with the Stan-hay
time. It is always agitated. I have another sprayer that seeders, pelleted seed so we get pretty good seed dis-
recirculates and agitates and it is not nearly as effec- tribution. Typical bed preparation would be disking and
tive. If you are looking a buying something and you then field cultivating but that gives you an idea of some
are going to be working with some of these materials of the carrot fields. Three row, fairly tight which is
that dont dissolve real well I really suggest these. probably perpetuating some of my Alternaria problems
but it just works out pretty well for us. Everything is
on raised beds and it has been a really good crop. We
Potatoes have a very good market for it in the Burlington area.
If I had to try to ship against California all the time it
just wouldnt pay.
We grow a couple of acres of potatoes and what we
do is try to get in and out quick. The years that they Here is the Rhizoctonia, which we get problems with
dont go down with leaf hopper we get bigger yields in storage. What we have gone to now in our coolers is
and we market them for a longer period of time. We we actually mist completely. We do a lot of purple top
have often green-sprouted potatoes on the greenhouses turnips because we can machine harvest these. They
and put seed potato in, green-sprout them and then are fairly efficient for us in terms of being lucrative.
put them in the ground, right through the planter and Beets, specialty beets, chioggia beets, gold beets, some
they really come up quite strong. You have a big plant of the things we can wholesale into supermarkets at
before CPB is even around. It is a good way to get a a fairly decent price. They all store very easily. Our
crop and avoid some of the problems. pest problems are very minor on these. I think it is a
big reason we choose to grow what we do because we
I would say our biggest kind of use of pest control can manage the pests.
on potatoes is avoidance more than anything. We had
some real trouble with hopper burn. I tried rotenone on There is an old time carrot harvester that we use on
it without much success. At this point I really dont use beets, turnips and carrots. We store everything in

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bulk bins and then we mist our rooms. We actually spent a lot of time analyzing how much labor, we track
have misters in there to try to keep the humidity up. all the labor we put into each crop. Our workers fill out
That has definitely helped a lot. I would like to go to a time sheet with the number of hours they work on
plastic bins if I could afford them but that is going to each crop. Sweet corn is a really good ratio in terms of
be a few years down the road because I think we do labor input to what we get out. From a per acre basis
probably have problems from year to year with some it is not real profitable, I cant really make more than
of the wood bins. They do store quite well in here. about $1,500 an acre probably from it. From a labor
What we are packing out now is pretty nice product. cost standpoint it is really good.
We have a small packing house in the dairy barn. We
have a barrel washer and we run a few people during Q: What does tarnished plant bug damage look
the winter time a couple of days a week and we pack like on lettuce?
out cellos, then we put out a bulk product that gets
shipped to local health food stores. We have a couple A: It is right on the ribs and it pokes in it. Have you
juice bars that take some of our products. People seem ever seen it where it gets really corky on the ribs?
to love our carrots because they are very sweet. We Thats tarnished plant bug feeding.
harvest them late in the fall so they develop a lot of
sugars and for some reason it is one crop that people Q: Is it the nymphs causing the damage?
just love what we grow.
A: No it is adults. They are in there, you just open it
With beets its the same way and its a very easy crop up and they are all in it.
to wholesale. It is amazing how much demand there is
for cut beets. Thats it, I guess. Any questions? Q: What does tarnished plant bug damage look
like on broccoli?

Questions and answers A: Its the brown beads. Have you ever seen the dead
beads? They will feed on the bead and the adults will
feed on the bead and you get brown bead and it seems
Q: When you store carrots is there any sawdust or to be a bigger problem for us in the summer time.
anything surrounding them? You know the first cutting in late August and early
September we will see some and then it just goes away.
A: No, no, but they are in the bulk bins and they are
in the coolers and we try to keep the coolers as close Q: How do you make the beds for your carrots? Is
as we can to 32, 34. Right now they are in our barn. it a two step deal?
I dont even use the coolers, I can kind of keep the
barn just at about the right temperature because it is A: Do you mean two passes? Well what we do, you
half buried in the ground and then I mist to keep the saw the disk and we use a light field cultivator and then
humidity up. we will go through with the bed shaper and our bed
shaper usually has to go over it twice to get it perfectly
Q: What kind of price do you need to make money smooth. Yeah, press pan type.
from sweet corn?
Q: Whats your favorite early sweet corn variety?
A: We wholesale 4 dozen for about 48 counts for
$15.00. So I probably see $12.00 by the time subtract A: I like Aladdin out of Stokes. I dont think I am
my trucking and my commission and things. What I going to be able to use any more because I cant get it
use a lot of my wholesale thing for, I will sell my lo- untreated. But now that I am transplanting early corn,
cal retail for $3.50 a dozen and then I can retail it for I can go into a little bit later varieties so that I dont
maybe $4.00 a dozen and then if I am long I can ship have deal with really short ear ones. So Im trying
it down to Boston to the supermarket. So I kind of use to think of some of the names. I use Mystique as my
it that way. The reason it makes money for us that way second one and then Lancelot quite a bit, also Trinity
is because we have no labor into it except picking it. is a pretty decent type ear for an early one that if I
I plant it, I field cultivate it, we dont hoe it. We have transplant seems to do OK.

Insect and Disease Management 161

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Q: Which of those varieties is the most vigorous Conclusion


A: Mystique is an awfully good grower I think. I am Just a couple of resources. This is my bible for diseases
not an expert on corn varieties though. Im kind of and pests of vegetable crops. It is Disease and Pests of
new at corn. I have only been growing it about four Vegetable Crops in Canada and its got every picture
years. Now with the new NOP standards, in Vermont that you would want. It covers greenhouse tomatoes
we could use treated seed so what I could get un- and greenhouse cucumbers as well. The nice thing is
treated late in the season I would use it, but now Ive I dont have to go turn the computer on and try to fire
got to really source that out. Lancelot I really enjoy up a web site. It is just right here and it is all in one
and Seedway does carry that, even though you do get book. I can leave it out here if you want to look at
some blow down problems. I have found that if I got it, it is available through the University of Vermont,
some other varieties around it, it doesnt seem to blow Anne Hazlerig, Hills Building, Burlington, Vermont.
as much. It is just so tender for so long the tenderness It is just a really good compilation. Certainly, all of
is throughout the plant so not only does the ear stay the stuff from Cornell is available but it is not all in
tender but the stalk is very tender, and that is why it one spot that I have been able to find. The other thing
tends to blow down. is the greenhouse tomato group, I have got the seed
catalog here if you want to look at it or get an address.

Thanks for having me.

162 Organic Vegetable Production


NRAES, the Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service, is a not-for-profit program dedi-
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books are used in cooperative extension programs, in college courses, as management guides, and for
self-directed learning.

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