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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink How can I manage Jerusalem crickets in strawberries?

Answer: These insects, sometimes called "children of the earth" because their oversized, round head with two, bead-like black eyes gives them a fancied resemblance to a miniature child. They are pale yellow to brown in color. These crickets are wingless as adults and have large, stout legs with spines at their tips used for burrowing into the soil. Jerusalem crickets are active at night and seldom seen, except by gardeners digging in the soil. Unlike other crickets, these insects are useful predators, catching and eating many other insects, spiders, and worms. With their strong legs and jaws, they burrow into the soil and feed on roots and tubers as well. They may also feed on dead insects and debris.

Your first step should be to ensure that your pest is indeed Jerusalem crickets. Because Jerusalem crickets are not commonly found as pests, there are very few strategies developed to combat them using organic or biological controls, and there is very little written material about chemical controls of these insects for the same reason.

Because they are generally shy of light, they will most likely feed at night, so that is when control measures should be implemented. If your strawberry production is very small-scale, then it will be feasible to survey your plants at night with a flashlight and, with a gloved hand, pick the crickets from your strawberries and put them into a pail of water mixed with a small amount of detergent. These insects will generally live under stones or in loose soil, so you might want to check under stones around your strawberries to destroy these insects. If the scale of your operation does not permit hand-picking, other options are to disk the soil adjacent to the strawberry beds to destroy them through the action of disking, as well as to expose them to predation by birds.

An additional approach is to alter the ecology of the strawberry production area so that it does not favor these insects. Remove sources of “living space,” such as stones, mulch, or other materials that they could burrow under. They prefer damp, sandy, or loose soil, so some mild soil compaction and reducing soil moisture may provide some control. Another suggestion would be after the strawberries are out, rip the field with a chisel plow in order to expose the crickets to birds and other predators. This would also disrupt their lifecycle, which is very slow—it can take up to three years to reproduce and have a new generation. Rotate away from the present location to a place that does not have the populations of this pest to carry over into the next planting. These insects disperse very slowly, as they are flightless.

If these insects are chewing on your drip tape, which can be a problem with them, you can use a heavier gauge drip tape in the future.

Neem and Pyganic pesticides are listed for crickets, but we are unsure of their effectiveness on Jeruselum cricket. Again, the challenges lie in exposing them to the pesticide because they reside in the soil. Night spraying would be best.

Spinosad Seduce is a new commercial bait available from Certis. It is labeled for both onions and cutworms, so its use should be legal in all states. The product has not received much testing in university trials yet, but farmers are reporting good results.

Seduce is labeled on strawberries for cutworms and earwigs, but not for crickets (although it might still work on crickets). You can view the label here:

Mention of any specific product does not constitute an endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.

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Permalink I am looking to start a nursery business and market directly to homeowners in my community. Can you tell me more about sustainable nursery production of evergreens?

Answer: One of the first choices you will need to make is whether to focus on "field-grown bare-root" or "containerized" (potted plant) production. In general, bare-root production is considered more sustainable because it does not rely so much on off-farm purchased inputs like potting soil and plastic pots. Also, because of the restricted root zone in the pots, more water is usually required for container production (in field-grown crops, the roots can rely somewhat on reserve water in the soil).

Weed control in field-grown crops can be more problematic depending largely on the farmer's skill, especially regarding pre-plant weed control. But even when growing in pots, weed control cannot be discounted — most large-scale container nurseries have their pots sitting on ground that has been treated with pre-emergent herbicides and covered with black plastic sheeting. The reason is that, without such weed control, weeds will come up between the pots and weed seed will be disseminated into the pots.

Another factor to consider is marketing the plants. Many consumers today are unfamiliar with bare-root plants; they prefer, or are at least more familiar with, potted plants (even though many of the potted plants they might buy at are not actually grown in pots, but rather, are grown in the field and "potted up" before being sold to the end user). It is easy to get around this minor problem by including simply-worded planting instructions with the plant. And, if you were to ever branch out from local sales into mail-order sales, the bare-root plants are cheaper to ship because of their reduced weight. Also related to marketing, it costs less to produce the bare-root plants, so you can sell them for less. You might have to point this out to your customers with a comparison chart showing your price and another store's price for a similar product.

With all of this said, it is not absolutely necessary to choose between these two means of production, but because of efficiency and the economies of scale, most nurseries end up choosing one or the other.

As a last marketing consideration, if your community is relatively small, you might quickly meet homeowners' needs for evergreens. If that were to happen, you would probably want to: a) expand your offerings—branch out into other types of plants; b) extend your reach into other, nearby geographical areas; or c) a combination of both.

For more information on how sustainable nursery practices can increase plant marketability and reduce a nursery's impact on the environment, see the ATTRA publication Sustainable Small-Scale Nursery Production at It covers sustainable production techniques, including pest management, weed control, and alternative fertilizers.

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Permalink What can you tell me about drip irrigation?

Answer: Drip irrigation, often referred to as micro or trickle irrigation, slowly and precisely delivers water (and sometimes nutrients) directly to a plant's root zone, making it a very efficient method of irrigation. With a drip system, water moves through a pipe system that is under pressure that is then distributed through emitters or drippers that are strategically placed close to the plants. The pressure needed in a drip system tends to be low but this is dependent upon the distance from the water source to the plants. The average drip system requires about 15 to 30 PSI (pounds per square inch) and the average home water pressure is rated between 40 and 80 PSI. As a result, there is little, if any, noticeable difference in water pressure in the home when the drip irrigation system is operating. This low pressure also makes for a very simple system to put together and manage as it does not require hard-to-connect components, glues, or clamps that are often needed in higher-pressure irrigation systems.

Drip irrigation is more efficient than conventional irrigation systems in that it is measured in gallons per hour rather than in gallons per minute. Other efficiency benefits include:
• Delivering water directly where it is needed reduces water evaporation and runoff
• Easy to install and maintain and can be used in rough terrains
• Can reduce pest, weed, and disease populations
• Water, energy, and money savings

A few disadvantages should be noted and include:
• Irrigation tubing and tape is susceptible to rodent damage
• Mowing and weed whacking around a system can be a challenge
• A filter is required to prevent clogging
• Leaks can be difficult to locate
• Management of plant water needs may increase

There are several key components to consider in designing a drip system. First, it is important to collect as much site information as you can. This not only includes the location of the are(s) you are looking to irrigate, but also looking at the location of any other existing features, the direction of any slopes, and the soil type and condition. Designing a system will require all of this to be mapped out. Second, it is important to locate all possible water sources and to determine the type and size of the pipe of the water source as it will help in sizing and figuring out flow rates for the drip system.

Next, you will need to determine the flow rate. This can be done by timing how long it takes to fill up a five-gallon bucket. Other components to consider in the design include whether or not you are looking to install a timer as well as if a backflow fixture is required by state or municipal plumbing codes.

Once the system is installed and operating, it is important to follow all recommend maintenance routines by the manufacturer. Many companies recommend flushing the system regularly to remove sand and silt particles and mineral deposits, cleaning the filters, as well as adding chlorine or other chemicals to the drip line to prevent bacteria and algae from building up.

If you are following the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations, it is important to note:
205.601 Synthetic materials allowed for use in organic crop production states:
"In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: As algicide, disinfectants, and sanitizer, including irrigation system cleaning systems
(1) alcohols (i) Ethanol (ii) Isopropanol
(2) Chlorine materials—Except, That residual chlorine levels in the water shall not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act [4 ppm]. (i) Calcium hypochlorite (ii) Chlorine dioxide (iii) Sodium hypochlorite
(3) Hydrogen peroxide
(4) Soap-based algicide/demisters"

Allowed materials include anything else that is considered "natural," including acetic acid (vinegar) or citric acid, as long as they are in compliance with the NOP regulations.

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Permalink What can you tell me about software products for organic farm recordkeeping?

Answer: Developing an easy recordkeeping system is essential for organic farm certification, but it can also be useful in helping you make business decisions for your farm. Software programs are not available through ATTRA, but we do have some templates that could be transferred to an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document on your computer.

Certified organic farmers must maintain an audit trail that can trace a product back to the field where it was produced, in case their product’s organic integrity is questioned.

An audit trail as defined by the USDA National Organic Program is as follows:

National Organic Program Part 205.2-Terms defined:
Audit trail. Documentation that is sufficient to determine the source, transfer of ownership and transportation of any agricultural product labeled as "100 percent organic," the organic ingredients of any agricultural product labeled as "organic" or "made with organic (specified ingredients)" or the organic ingredients of any agricultural product containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients identified as organic in an ingredients statement.

Farmers maintain cropping maps, and the sophistication of the records required in the audit trail usually depends on whether or not they are direct or wholesale marketing. Farmers who market at a farmers market directly to a consumer usually maintain field and harvest records of each crop and what date they are sold. Farmers who market through wholesale distribution channels must maintain sales receipts, travel receipts, lot or bin numbers for their products, and a verification of these by the buyer, as well as harvest and field records.

ATTRA’s Documentation Forms for Organic Crop and Livestock Producers can help you set up a system on your home computer, or even on a notebook in your farm truck (just simply print the forms). To use the forms on a home computer, you will likely need to copy and paste them into an Excel template. These will at least give you a starting point to determine what the variables are. The full publication is available at

Many farmers use Quickbooks or Quicken to manage their farm finances as well as to sort essential records for organic certification. Quickbooks has a farm/ ranch management category to help set up your chart of accounts and from there develop several income and record templates.

COG-Pro is an online database that helps you maintain your farm records in accordance with organic standards. The records can be maintained from your laptop to your tablet or smartphone in the field. They require an annual fee to access your records and their database. Learn more at

The Organic Farmers Business Handbook, by Richard Wiswall, is an excellent all around recordkeeping handbook. It also includes Excel templates on a CD. This book is very user-friendly for farmers. After all, the author is a farmer and has been refining his record system over many years. This is not just for certification, mind you, but for business management and enterprise evaluation as well. Chelsea Green distributes this book ( ), but you could probably get it at Amazon or other retailers, as well.

CSA-ware is a software designed specifically for CSA farms. CSAs are unique in that they have to plant multiple crops in succession and manage multiple accounts through their membership. The software helps manage membership, online orders, and farm financial records, but not so much with crop planning. Learn more at

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