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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink Can you give me some reccommendations for starting with cut flower production?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information for starting cut flower production. Please see the ATTRA publication Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing.

A few flowers that you might try growing this summer include:

Sunflowers, Helianthus annuus pollenless varieties
Zinnias, Zinnia elegans Benary’s Giant
Goldenrod, Solidago spp.
Gayfeather, Liatris spicata
Gladiolus, Benary’s Giant mix
Tuberoses, Polianthes tuberosa

I suggest these because they are relatively easy to grow, handle, and sell. And except for zinnias, customers can expect a vase life of a week to 10 days if they are harvested at the right stage and handled appropriately after harvest. You can sell these as single stems, bunches, or as simple but striking arrangements. You can find production information on the Web, in seed catalogs, and in books. Or best of all, ask other growers. A few notes based on my experience or that of other growers follows.

Sunflowers: Pollenless varieties are best for cut flower use. They don’t shed pollen on a customer’s table and they have a longer vase life. Check with seed companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seed (see Resources), Harris Seed, or others for suggestions. You can space the plants about 9 inches apart, both in the row and between rows. I prefer seeding directly into the garden rather than starting them in flats to transplant later. Plan to cut one flower stalk per plant. Make succession plantings approximately every week or 10 days beginning about the time of the latest expected frost. Sunflower seedlings will tolerate a light frost.

Zinnias: Benary’s Giant currently seems to be the favorite variety among cut flower growers. I have had good success with season-long bloom by direct seeding one planting after danger of frost, then a second planting about 2 months later. The plants will be blooming in about 60 days from planting. I cut long stems, at least 2 feet (stripping the leaves as I cut), and get lots of blooms per plant. It seems the more I cut, the better the plants continue to grow and send up more blossoms! Cut zinnias do not tolerate temperatures below about 50F. Research shows that vase life of zinnias is extended by use of a hydrating solution, but most farmers’ market vendors don’t use one.

Goldenrod: This is a native plant in much of the U.S. The flowers are a golden yellow. Goldenrod is a perennial. New plants can be started by cuttings taken from the spreading roots of older plants. Or purchase plants from a nursery. Space the plants 18 inches apart. Harvest the flowers when about half the blossoms are open. I think these make a nice “filler” in arrangements with sunflowers.

Gayfeather: This is another native plant. You can get a start by buying corms, plants, or seeds. I buy corms from one of the commercial bulb suppliers such as Gloeckner. Packed in quantities of 100 per box, they are not expensive. Two colors are available, purple and white. I have not tried succession planting, but that would give you an extended bloom season. In my garden, the flower stalks were longer and more abundant the second year after planting. I like to cut the stalks of the white variety while most of the flower buds are still green with just a hint of white. The purple variety is more commonly grown and is a popular color at the farmers’ market.

Gladiolus: I purchase the corms from Miedema Brothers, Inc., Gladiolus Farms, 8604 E. 4500 S. Road, St. Anne, IL 60964-4086, 815-427-8470. The cost has been about 10 cents per corm including shipping when purchased in quantities of 500 per variety. I try to plant them about 6 inches deep, and about 4 inches apart. By planting them deeply, and cutting when no more than 2-3 blossoms are open, I haven’t had much of a problem with the stalks falling over. Floral netting is, however, good insurance, and can be purchased from Gloeckner or Hummert’s or other suppliers. In northwest Arkansas, the corms can be left in the ground over winter. I’ve read that the first planting can be made as early as the ground can be worked, with subsequent plantings every week to 14 days through early summer. This will give you continuous blooms until frost.

Tuberoses: These flowers are known for their fragrance. Some people find it overpowering, and can’t stand to have them inside a room, but others can’t wait for the tuberose season at the farmers’ market. They are definitely a warm weather plant. Planting them when you plant beans or tomatoes is probably appropriate. They will sprout and grow when the soil is warm, and bloom after the days become really warm, usually in August in Northwest Arkansas. I set the bulbs deep enough to cover the tops, and about 9 inches apart in rows about 12 inches apart, with 3 rows per bed. The leaves and flower stalks will be killed by frost; you can then mow them off, dig and store the bulbs in bulb crates in a basement or other place where they won’t be frozen. Or you can leave them in the ground over winter in northwest Arkansas and they will come back the next spring—unless the winter is unusually cold. Tuberoses multiply over time, so you can start with a few and have many in a few years.

The ATTRA publication Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing has contact information for the suppliers I’ve mentioned, and additional suppliers. Among the additional resources listed, I highly recommend Lynn Byczynski’s book The Flower Farmer, which you can find at her website,


Anon. No date. The basics of growing cut flowers for profit: Frequently asked questions. Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 1 p.

Anon. No date. Cut Flower Plot. Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 1 p.

Anon. 2009. Sunflower Comparison. Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 1 p.



Permalink What information can you give me on integrating poultry into a garden?

West Virginia

Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on integrating poultry into a garden.

A “chicken tractor” is a way to integrate poultry production with vegetable production. Andy Lee described his system in a popular book called Chicken Tractor (1). Birds are kept in small pens in a garden to provide fertility, tillage, and insect control. Lee uses a small floorless pen so the birds can forage and scratch. The pen is covered with wire and usually has a covered top or a small attached house. The pen is moved daily on fallow beds to add fertility and increase garden yields. The chickens also weed and till the beds and help control insects. Garden wastes are useful feed supplements. In addition to rotating the pen daily to a fresh spot, Lee suggests keeping the pen in one spot and adding fresh straw bedding daily to create a raised garden bed. Moving the pen after one month will leave a sheet-mulch on top of the beds to kill grass and weeds. According to producer Jean Nick, heavy broilers don’t really till the soil. “They just poop and stomp on it.” Layers are better at clearing weeds and bulbs and scratching the ground.

You can download plans for chicken tractors from Washington State University at

Scientific studies have examined the impact of poultry on fertility, integrating birds with vegetable and forage production. Jim McNitt, PhD, (2) at Southern University and University of Illinois graduate student Ben Lubchansky (3) have conducted such examinations. See the References for the full report.

Poultry can also be kept in gardens, fenced with portable electro-netting. Chickens help prepare the ground for vegetable planting by tilling. After harvest, birds clean crop residues in market gardens in the fall— turkeys are especially useful for this purpose. According to Andy Lee, “from October through Thanksgiving the turkeys can clean every bit of weeds and spent plants from the garden and leave a rich load of manure behind.” “Fold” houses in the United Kingdom allow flocks of chickens to help glean fields after crops are harvested. (4) Chickens are not generally appropriate for a producing garden, because they scratch up seeds or eat crops. According to Vermont producer Walter Jefferies, “I don’t let them in early in the season when the seedlings are getting started or late in the year when they’ll peck ripe veggies. Chickens, guineas, and ducks all work with some plants such as potatoes, corn, tomatoes at the right states.”


(1) Lee, Andy. 1998. Chicken Tractor. Straw Bale Edition. Good Earth Publications. Buena Vista, VA. 320 p

(2) Dr. Jim McNitt
Small Farm Family Resource Development Center
Southern University and A&M College
Box 11170
Baton Rouge, LA 70813-0401
504-771-5134 FAX

(3) Lubchansky, Benjamin. 2005. The Agricultural and Ecological Functioning of a System Integrating Pastured Poultry and Raised-bed Vegetable Production. NC SARE Graduate Student Grant. GNC04-028.

(4) Thear, Katie. 1997. Free-Range Poultry. Published by Farming Press Books, Ipswich, U.K. Distributed by Diamond Farm Enterprises, Alexandria Bay, NY. 181 p.



Permalink Can you give me some resources where chefs can find sustainable food sources/suppliers in their area?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding resources and Web sites where chefs can find sustainable food sources/suppliers in their area.

Farmers markets are a good place to begin, as are food coops and grocery stores specializing in natural or organic food. The produce, meat and dairy department managers at these stores can provide information about local farmers and/or distributors of local and sustainable foods. For a listing of food coops nationwide, go to: For farmers' markets near you, go to:

Also on the Web, please check out:

ATTRA Local Food Directories
Chefs Collaborative
Local Harvest
Market Maker
Sustainable Table
The Organic Pages Online



Permalink What information can you give me on fly control methods?



Answer: Flies of concern may include members of the family Muscidae that includes house flies, stable flies, horn flies and face flies. The habits of these are summarized in the chart below. Although certain flies favor barns or confinement settings and others are found more in pasture, some eat filth, others such blood and others feed on secretions, all flies reproduce rapidly and can cause trouble that it is worth the effort to prevent. The life cycle is complete metamorphosis: depending on conditions, fly eggs may hatch in a day. Fly larvae (maggots) pass through three larval instars and a pre-pupal stage within about a week, and adult flies begin laying eggs within a couple days.

These flies are pests because at a minimum they cause animals discomfort, and are estimated to reduce weight gain by 25% (18) and decrease milk production up to 15-30% (15) or even 40-60% (18). Flies, can transmit all manner of diseases (2) including bacterial diseases such as cholera and anthrax, and eggs of parasitic worms (10). The threshold that indicates a high level of activity for stable flies is just 10 flies per animal. Other flies not discussed here include external parasites that live part of their breeding cycle on/in animals.

The most economic and practical method of controlling flies is to reduce their breeding. The most effective way of reducing fly breeding is to eliminate areas that provide fly habitat where larvae feed and develop in wet or moist manure and other decaying organic matter. Observe the area where flies are a problem and figure out where the flies are breeding. Different flies have slightly different life cycles for breeding as well as different habits for being pests on animals. The latter will help you identify what fly or flies are present, and more effectively address the breeding problem at its source. All the other approaches listed below are complimentary, and will be most effective when used together with good sanitation.

A comparison of fly pests.

Fly species: common, scientific

Life cycle; eggs laid by each female

Breeding site

Location on farm and on animals

Form of feeding and habits; animal reaction

House fly
Musca domestica

7-21 days, egg to adult (13);
150-200 (2) up to 500 (10) eggs per fly

Moist organic materials: fresh manure, bedding,
spilled feed,
ripe vegetables

Barn areas

Feed on filth

Stable fly
Stomoxys calitrans

12-21 days eggs to adult
200-400(2) or 500 (10) eggs/fly

Decomposing plant matter such as wet straw and grass

legs and bellies

Pierce skin, suck blood; Animals stamp their feet. >10 flies/ animal=high activity.

Horn flies

As little as10-12 days egg to adult
Lays 375-400 eggs (10)

Fresh manure (2-3 days old)

shoulders, backs, sides, midline.

Feed on blood.
Flies fly into manure as animal deficates

Face flies
Musca atumnalis


Moist fresh manure.
Live in cooler and coastal areas, not in hot, dry climates.

Pasture -- do not enter barns;
Face, eyes muzzle.

Feed on secretions around eyes.
Can transmit pinkeye (13).
Animals gather with heads together.

Sources (1, 2, 10, 13, 15) and many others)

Reduce fly breeding areas around barns and buildings

  • Remove or move manure, bedding, waste and other sources of food for fly larvae. For most flies, the breeding cycle may range from 10 to 60 days (shorter in warm conditions and longer when the weather is cool). Move fresh manure, bedding and spilled feed and from barn areas every 2-3 days (10) if possible to break this breeding cycle.
  • Keep animal barns and yards dry. Repair any leaky pipes promptly. Address any other sources of water that may help create areas that are ideal places for flies to lay eggs and their larvae (maggots) to develop. Clean drainage ditches. Cover silage.
  • Keep drinking water fresh and clean. Dump water where it will be used by plants or dry quickly. Avoid creating places that stay soggy.

Keep flies out

  • Ventilate barns to maintain good air circulation.
  • Put up physical barriers such as screening on windows, and keep doors closed whenever it is practical.

Reduce Fly Breeding areas in Pasture

  • Manage pastures using strategies such as rotational grazing to interrupt pest life cycles. Fly eggs, maggots, pupae and adults all die after a while.
  • Disperse, break up and dry out manure paddies by dragging a harrowing. This is especially important early in the season before populations multiply.
  • Encourage dung beetles by avoiding pesticides such as synthetic parasiticides (Ivermectin) or using them judiciously. Dung beetles break apart and incorporate fresh manure into the soil, eliminating breeding areas and thus reducing horn fly populations.
  • Incorporate pastured poultry into your garden, pasture or farming system to eat fly larvae and help keep populations down. Both domesticated and wild birds in animal pastures, including chickens, ducks, geese, guinea hens, and cattle egrets will pick through paddies and eat fly eggs and larvae. Chickens are even adept at catching adult flies. Eggs or other poultry products may be an enterprise for farm income diversity.
  • Compost organic materials using aerobic methods. A hot compost pile (where heat is generated by decomposition) will kill fly larvae, and presents an inhospitable place for adult flies to lay their eggs.

Fly traps: many possible designs and variations are allowed for use in organic production.

  • Indoor traps include sticky traps or fly tape. Place these near beams and walls so they do not catch bats, and away from any barn swallow nests. Pheromone traps may be more effective against certain species of flies.
  • Outdoors, an inverted cone traps consist of a cone with a hole in the top that opens into a space enclosed with screening from which flies cannot escape. Smelly bait under the cone will attract flies so they fly up through the hole in the top of the cone into the enclosed space where they die. These traps should be placed in full sunlight, sheltered from strong winds, and within 6 feet of active breeding areas, such as at the ends of barns manure piles or calf hutches.
  • Walk-through traps can help reduce flies—especially horn flies--on larger animals. Strips of canvas dislodge flies from animals' backs and sides. Attracted to the light, they fly up and become trapped between two layers of screened mesh. Plans are available from various sources including ATTRA. Please note that some plans for walk-through fly traps recommend the use of treated lumber. Organic producers must find alternatives to using this prohibited material. Please see ATTRA's publication entitled Alternatives to Treated Lumber. Walk-though traps can be placed anywhere where animals must pass, such as the entrance to the milking barn, and to sources of water. While cattle may need to be trained to walk through such an unfamiliar space at first, they may later walk through to achieve its benefits even when it is freestanding in a pasture.
  • Use bug zappers to kill adult flies. These are most effective when the bulbs are replaced frequently enough to keep the ultraviolet wavelength attractive to insects. Keep records of their date of installation; a light that appears all right to the human eye may not maintain that proper wavelength.

Biological control

  • Recognize and encourage predators: Hister beetles are small, shiny black beetles that eat fly eggs—one beetle can eat as many as 24 eggs per day. Predatory mites also eat fly eggs and small maggots (15).
  • Release fly parasites such as parasitic wasps. The Cornell website on biological notes the use of the parasitic wasp Muscidifurax raptor for control of the housefly Musca domestica and stable fly Stomoxy calcitrans, as well as different types of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes for flies. The wasp Muscidifurax raptor may be most effective in hot and humid conditions. Other wasps or mixtures of wasps may be more effective in other areas. Consult with an insectary or supplier of beneficial insects about which parasitic wasps are most appropriate for your species of fly, type of livestock and region. A supplier should also be able to provide recommendations on the best conditions, locations, frequencies, and numbers of releases. Remember to protect these beneficial insects from getting too hot, cold, wet or dry. Releases may be most effective when done weekly, and will probably need to be done every year because their numbers decline in winter.
  • Provide habitat for bats, and birds such as purple martins (in the parts of the country where they live). Several species of bats and birds will inhabit appropriately constructed and well-placed nest boxes or other types of enhanced or artificial housing, and help by eating flies.

Allowed pesticides

  • Some pesticides are allowed for use in organic production a complement if other methods are unsuccessful or insufficient. Such materials should be used to complement, not substitute for other methods as listed above. Before you use any organic or biological pesticide, you must include it in your organic system plan that is approved by your organic certifier. Botanical and allowed synthetic pesticides may be found in various product formulations at feed stores and farm coops. Organic or natural materials often have inert ingredients or synthetic carriers that are not allowed. Botanical pesticides also need to be labeled for use on cattle or other animals where you intend to use them. All synthetic pesticides, including insecticidal ear tags, are prohibited in organic production. It is good to check with your veterinarian to see if she or he has any experience in administering organic pesticides in animal production.


1) Fanatico, A.  1996.  Alternative Fly Control.  Butte, MT: National Center for Appropriate Technology. (out of print)

2) Macey, Anne, Ed. Canadian Organic Growers, Inc. 2000. Organic Livestock Handbook, Fly and Rodent Control chapter, pages 50-63.

3) University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Dairy Cattle Insect Management: Fly Control and Cattle Lice sections.

4) Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies of North America
Note: This site provides photographs and descriptions of over 100 biological control (or biocontrol) agents of insect, disease, and weed pests in North America. It is also a tutorial on the concept and practice of biological control and integrated pest management (IPM). Excellent photos and lifecycle descriptions.

5) Organic Valley Co-op. Controlling external parasites on the organic farm.

6) Dr. H.J. Karreman, DMV. January 2002 Newsletter. Penn Dutch Cow Care

7) Dr. Hubert J. Karreman, VMD. Treating Dairy Cows Naturally.

8) Paul Dettloff, DVM. Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals

9) Little, V.A. 1963. General and Applies Entomology. Harper and Row Publishers.
10) Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). June 2004. OMRI Generic Materials List, under Livestock Production Materials: enzymes.
11) Those Pesky Lice! By Cheryl K. Smith. Dairy Goat Journal May/June 2005

12) UC IPM Online. April 2004. Pests of Homes, Structures, People and Pets: Flies

13) Integrated Pest Management for Fly Control in Maine Dairy Barns. University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin #5002.

14) Integrated Management of Flies in and around Dairy and Livestock Barns, DAIRY MANAGEMENT Pest Management Fact Sheet, 6/1994.

15) Make Your Own Fly Trap
Horse Talk New Mexico Horse Directory

16) David Shetlar, PhD. The Ohio State University, photos of Old Fly Traps.



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