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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What can you tell me about small-scale composting?



Composting has numerous advantages for waste materials. Compost contains nutrients that are readily available to plants and yet held against loss through leaching or volatilization. Compost added to soils has also been shown to increase biological activity in the soil, improve soil tilth, and increase the availability of certain plant nutrients already in the soil. Furthermore, the composting process can turn materials such as grass clippings, leaves, yard debris, and other materials -- frequently considered nuisance items -- into a valuable resource. Proper composting can even kill most weed seeds and disease organisms that may be present in the organic debris.

Several conditions are important for proper composting to take place.

1) The materials to be composted should have an appropriate carbon:nitrogen ratio, from 20:1 to 30:1. With a higher ratio (more carbon) the composting process takes place more slowly; with a lower ratio there is increased chance of loss of nitrogen to the atmosphere. In practice, this means using a blend of high carbon materials such as leaves, straw, or yard residue, and high nitrogen materials such as livestock manure or fresh grass clippings.

2) Moisture content between 40% and 60% should be maintained. If the material is too dry, the lack of moisture will slow microbiological activity and the compost pile will not heat up properly. A compost pile with too high a moisture content will not stack properly and will have insufficient oxygen for the microbes. In addition, too much water in the pile may cause soluble forms of nitrogen or other nutrients to leach from the compost.

A simple test for measuring moisture content is to take a handful of the composting materials and squeeze the material into a tight ball in your fist. If the materials stay in the tight ball shape when you open your hand, the materials are probably too wet. If the materials fall apart rapidly, the materials are probably too dry. Properly moistened, the compost materials will form a ball when squeezed, but the ball will break apart readily.

Maintaining the proper moisture content may require some care. During periods of high precipitation, covering the pile with plastic or other water-repellent material may be necessary. During dry weather, the compost may require the addition of water.

3) The microbes, which break down the organic materials in the composting process, require oxygen, so proper aeration is critical. If the compost pile has insufficient air anaerobic organisms are favored. The presence of these organisms as well as other chemical conditions favored by low oxygen increase the chance of loss of valuable nitrogen to the atmosphere. Aeration of compost is usually achieved by physically stirring or turning the pile periodically or by incorporating coarse materials into the pile when it is first built.

4) Compost must be able to achieve and maintain sufficient heat to speed biological activity and to help kill weed seeds and plant pathogens. Although the composting process produces heat, often in excess of 150° Fahrenheit, retaining it can be difficult during cold weather. Building the pile large enough, with each of the three dimensions at least four feet, decreases the surface to volume ratio and helps to keep the center of the pile warm. A covering of plastic sheeting or straw will provide some insulation to help retain heat.

Several considerations for anyone developing a composting plan are odor and appearance, kind and quantity of locally available compostable materials, and where the finished compost will be used. If the compost pile is properly formed and aerated, objectionable odors should not occur. If odor is a problem, a thin layer of soil over the pile should help to solve it. The appearance of a compost pile can be improved by building a bin to contain it. This has the additional advantage of keeping dogs and other animals, domestic and wild, from stirring and scattering your hard-built pile.

High carbon materials are frequently more readily available than are high nitrogen materials. In this case, you may have to obtain some manure, bloodmeal, or other high-nitrogen material. Most organic materials can be composted, and the key to efficient composting is making use of what you have at hand.

Moving compost around is hard work, so most people try to build their piles near to where the compost will be used or easily marketed. This makes the move from finished product to application as short as possible, and also allows residues to be easily incorporated into the pile.


American Horticulture Society. No date. Home composting: The slow & easy method, and Fundamental (and little known) compost truths. Compost Factsheet 1 & 2. 2 p.

Anon. No date. Bag composting. HortIdeas.

Anon. 1997. Compost production and use-part 1. Small Acreage Farming. July. p. 4-6.

Portable wood & wire composting bin

Anon. 1988. Build a three-bin composter. National Gardening. April. p. 40-41.

Baker, B. 1990. Science you can use: Compost. California Certified Organic Farmers Statewide Newsletter. Summer. p. 19-21.

Cline, S. 1994. Get started in composting. Fine Gardening. October. p. 52-55.

Cohen, Ellen. 1986. Compost. Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine. June. 6 p.

Cox, Jeff. 1995. And I piled it my way! Organic Gardening. April. p. 61--65.

Rosematrin, L. 1991. Compost more than you ever wanted to know. Tropical Fruit News. March. p. 4-5.



Permalink How do I go about starting a farmers market?



My first suggestion to you would be to contact the Virginia Farmers Direct Marketing Association. They have a lot of specific information to your state and may be able to play an advisory role for you. Their contact information is listed below under further resources. Their home page is You should also call the VA Department of Agriculture to see if any specific regulations apply to your situation, regarding liability insurance and related topics. Their contact information is listed below under further resources.

If you are truly interested in starting a full-fledged farmers market, my second suggestion is to form a steering committee, if you have not already. The New York State Farmer’s Market Association has this information on how to do this in their publication “Step by Step guide for Establishing a Farmers Market Association.”

The steering committee could be made up of consumers, farmers, and maybe some supportive consumers. Once you have formed a steering committee to help guide the process, you can begin planning, which can be quite extensive. Below you will find several resources that should be helpful in your planning process. They are from different state efforts, but all of them have relevant information that will be helpful to you. Since you have vendors and an interest from the current farmers market customers, many of the steps in the process have already been taken care of, however, I would suggest that all steps in the planning process be written down and formal bi-laws be drafted to prevent any type of legal problems that might occur in such a situation. Below you will also find the Florida Cooperative Extension publication titled “Starting a Farmer’s Market” which has sample bi-laws to help guide you in developing these.

The Colorado State University Agribusiness Marketing Report has an extensive step-by-step guide to planning the development of a farmers market which you might find helpful, titled "Planning and Developing a Farmers Market: Marketing, Organizational and Regulatory Issues to Consider".

The USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service has grants available. The USDA AMS Farmers Market Web site has information on grants and other farmers market related news and information. Information on both of these entities is listed below.

Since you aim to start the farmers market on your property, you might want to consider starting an on-farm market or farm stand instead. This might reduce your liability and make it easier to get a “value-added” grant. There are many great examples of this, including a cooperative arrangement that received a SARE grant (
This report is titled Veneta Cooperative Farm Stand.

Capital requirements for a roadside stand can vary from almost nothing to an elaborate store. Thus, a roadside stand can be a good way to get started if you have access to a good location and have several produce items to sell. Regulations for selling on a roadside market will vary depending on location (on-farm or off-farm, city or countryside) so it is important to contact local and county authorities before establishing it.

Also see the ATTRA publication on Direct Marketing, which you might find useful in making a decision about which direction to go with your enterprises.


22 Steps to Starting a Farmers' Market.

Swisher, M.E., et al. Starting a Farmers’ Market. IFAS Extension. FCS5257-eng. July 2006.

Ellen and Stephenson. 2001. Veneta Cooperative Farmstand. Western SARE Project Report MW00-035.

Further Resources:

VA Farmers Direct Marketing Association
Scott Sink, President
SES Enterprises
307 Chowning Place
Blacksburg, VA 24060
540-961-1471, 540-493-5531 (cell)

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Division of Marketing
Cathy Belcher, Direct Marketing Program Manager
102 Governor Street, Room 320
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-4046

USDA-Agriculture Marketing Service
Project Coordinator, Matthew Kurlanski
Phone: 202-787-1966 or toll free at 877-703-0552



Permalink What can you tell me about establishing a pomegranate orchard?



See the ATTRA publication Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview. While you did not mention organic production, this publication addresses economic considerations for new orchard establishment applicable to all types of fruit production.

The only parts of the U.S. with a history of commercial pomegranate production are Hawaii, California’s Central San Joaquin Valley, and possibly the desert Southwest.

UC-Davis maintains a collection of 140 types for research, but a fruit collector with the California-based Rare Fruit Society boasts of 1,000 accessions—some recently collected from Afghanistan. David Silverstein (1) of CRFS, wrote last October that his ‘Green Globe’ pomegranate grafted on a portion of his ‘Wonderful’ has “large, sweet, aromatic, green-skinned fruit…of excellent quality.” Fruits weigh up to two pounds. He has not done an assessment of marketability, however.(2)

Research on pomegranate cultivars for home gardeners was conducted a few years ago at Texas A&M, but no public breeding program exists to develop improved cultivars for Texas. Some promising cultivars in the trials died for unexplained reasons. Texas A&M Extension’s Horticultural Update recommends pomegranate ‘Wonderful’ for homeowners in all zones of Texas. ‘Wonderful’—developed in Florida—is the standard for fresh market pomegranate. The on-line catalog of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization formerly sold ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Big Red’ pomegranate trees. This organization no longer carries pomegranate and no longer sells plants, but describes the two varieties.

‘Wonderful’ pomegranate originated in Florida. The fruit is very large, dark purple-red, with medium-thick rind. Juicy wine-colored pulp encapsulates medium-hard seeds that are difficult to chew. The plant is vigorous and productive.

‘Big Red’ pomegranate is self-fertile, and productive. The seeds are soft and can be easily chewed.

Texas A&M recommends that pomegranate be trained to either a tree or a bush habit. The bush habit, with many trunks, has the advantage of increasing the chances that at least one or two trunks will survive during an unexpected cold snap.

ECHO’s notes on pomegranate in Florida follow (from its old plant list):

The tree is tolerant of almost any soil type, but prefers a fairly dry climate. In southwest Florida, it fruits better after a cold winter. Fruit can be produced the first year, but it usually takes 2 or 3 years. For the first three years, the bush should be pruned heavily to form a main stem with many short branches. After 3 years, only suckers and dead branches are removed. Pomegranate is hardy to about 12 degrees F. In northern Florida the pomegranate bears July – November, but it may produce year round in the southern part of the state.

Below you will find a link to a bulletin published for home gardeners by Texas A&M Cooperative Extension on raising pomegranate. There is also an old Crop Factsheet from the University of California at Davis, providing information on commercial production in California in the 1980s.

I encourage you to contact Dr. John H. Braswell (3), Coastal Research and Extension Center, Mississippi State University Extension. Dr. Braswell has a keen interest in Gulf Coast pomegranate production.

Sources of pomegranate stock

Most mail-order nurseries that sell pomegranates offer them as specimen (single) backyard shrubs. Rohde’s Nursery and Nature Store, Dallas, was asking $25 per tree on the Internet; Garden of Delights, $35/tree. Aaron’s Bulb Farm, Sumner, GA ( also sells pomegranate trees on-line (call toll-free line, 800-913-9347 for quotation).

The Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory
(3rd edition, 2001) published by Seed Savers Publications (4) is the most comprehensive and recent compilation of pomegranate cultivars—listing 50 suppliers, 23 of whom can provide ‘Wonderful.’ Other popular varieties are ‘Sweet’ and ‘Dwarf.’

Southern suppliers of other varieties than ‘Wonderful’ are listed as Garden of Delights, Davie, FL (5), supplying ‘Indian Apple,’ and Hidden Springs Nursery, Cookeville, TN, supplying ‘Russian Dwarf’ (6).

I’ve found several new suppliers on-line, including Paradise Nursery, Virginia Beach, VA ( and Ingoldsby’s Nursery and Floral Shop, Lindsay, CA ( Both supply by mail.

You will need to determine whether the nursery sells in the standard 1–3 gal. container size by contacting the nursery or visiting the Web site. Retail suppliers would be more likely than wholesalers to stock these sizes.


Pomegranate has been valued mainly as a processing fruit. It is the source of Grenadine syrup, juices, and flavorings. Traditionally, the juice has been used as a meat marinade, as a souring agent, and in bulgar wheat salad. Imported “pomegranate molasses” is available from specialty food stores. In contemporary merchandising, according to the product data service Productscan, some 215 new pomegranate-flavored foods and beverages were brought to market in the first seven months of 2006, compared to just 19 for the whole of 2002. Pomegranate flavors are finding their way to everything from natural fruit juices to chewing gum and even sausages. Pomegranate is now being marketed as a health food.

As a fresh fruit, pomegranate has the disadvantages of tough exterior skin, tendency to stain clothing, and seeds (of some varieties) that, while edible, may be hard and unpleasant to chew. Unlike oranges, the membrane between seed sacs is inedible. Fresh pomegranate fruits have been most valued for decorative effect. There are recipes that relegate the hard preparation work to the kitchen and feature a scattering of the brilliant seeds over a finished dish—especially curries.

Some varieties, while tasty, have light-colored flesh that is less attractive to consumers. Ornamental dwarf varieties do not produce edible fruit. Some varieties are known as “soft” fruit varieties.


1) David Silverstein, Chair California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG)
c/o Paul Fisher, San Diego Chapter
1266 Vista Del Monte Dr.
El Cajon, CA 92020

2) Silverstein, David. 2006. The view from the Chair. CFRG: San Diego Chapter Newsletter. Vol. 2, No. 1. p. 1ff.

3) Dr. John H. Braswell
Extension Horticulture Specialist
Mississippi State University
Coastal Research and Extension Center
P.O. Box 193
Poplarville, MS
601-795-0653 FAX
601-795-5558 cell phone

4) Seed Saver Publications
3076 North Winn Road
Decorah, IA 52101

5) Garden of Delights
14560 SW 14th St.
Davie, FL 33325-4217

6) Hidden Springs Nursery
170 Hidden Springs Lane
Cookeville, TN 38501


News release. 2006. US: Pomegranate popularity and acreage on the rise. FreshPlaza. October 2. 1 p.

LaRue, James H. 1980. Growing Pomegranates in California. 8 p.

Sauls, Julian W. 1998. Home fruit production—Pomegranate. Texas Citrus and Subtropical Fruits. 3 p.



Permalink What do I need to know to start an on-farm milk bottling facility?

If you decide to set up a bottling facility you will need to work closely with your state dairy inspector. You can contact your state department of agriculture to locate the office that handles dairy inspections. Working closely with the state dairy inspector will help you to meet all requirements and avoid costly mistakes.

There are several publications and articles listed below that will help you with value-added processing of milk, including information on things you should consider before starting a bottling facility, as well as what equipment would be needed for your facility. The articles listed below also feature producers who have started their own bottling facilities. It is always helpful to hear what other producers have done. If you do decide to start bottling milk, the web site, will be helpful. This site has resources and contacts for processing equipment. You can also buy and sell used equipment on the site, which helps to keep costs down.


See the ATTRA publication Value-Added Dairy Options

Henahan, B. n.d. Questions You Should Answer Before Starting a New Dairy Processing Enterprise. 4 p.

Anon. 2000. What Do You Need to Get Started in Bottling On-Farm?. CreamLine. Spring 2000. p. 4-9.

Ruhl, K. 2001. Building a Small-Scale Milk Bottling Plant on a Shoestring Budget, part 1. CreamLine. Fall 2001. p. 8-10.

Ruhl, K. 2002. Building a Small-Scale Milk Bottling Plant on a Shoestring Budget, part 2. CreamLine. Winter 2002. p. 1,3-5, 15-18.

Moynihan,M. (ed.). 2006. Dairy Your Way. Minnesota Department of Agriculture. p. 63-70, 89-97.

Wirt, K. 2003. On Farm Milk Processing. High Plains Journal. 2 p.

Morrison, E. 2001. Bottle at your own risk. Ag Innovation News. Vol. 10, No. 2. 2 p.

Morrison, E. 2001. Bittersweet end. Ag Innovation News. Vol. 10, No. 2. 3 p.

Dunaway, V. 2000. Small Dairy Resource Book. p. 48-56.



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