Sign up for the
Weekly Harvest Newsletter!

Published every Wednesday, the Weekly Harvest e-newsletter is a free Web digest of sustainable agriculture news, resources, events and funding opportunities gleaned from the Internet. See past issues of the Weekly Harvest.
Sign up here

Sign up for the Weekly Harvest Newsletter

What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

Master Publication List

Search Our Databases

Urban Agriculture

Energy Alternatives

Beginning Farmer

Field Crops

Horticultural Crops

Livestock & Pasture

Local Food Systems

Food Safety

Marketing, Business & Risk Management

Organic Farming

Pest Management

Soils & Compost

Water Management

Ecological Fisheries and Ocean Farming

Other Resources

Sign Up for The Dirt E-News

Home Page

Contribute to NCAT


Newsletter sign up button

· Privacy Policy · Newsletter Archives

RSS Icon XML Feeds

RSS 2.0: Events, Breaking News, Funding Opportunities Atom: Events, Breaking News, Funding Opportunities


NCAT strives to make our information available to everyone who needs it. If you are a limited-access or low-income farmer and find that one of our publications is just not in your budget, please call 800-346-9140.


How are we doing?


Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What soap is safe to use on organic food crops for insect control?

Answer: Organic farming requires any pest management materials used be in compliance with USDA's National Organic Program regulations and must be used in the context of organic principles for farming and handling practices.

The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) provides an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production. After review, if substances are determined safe for organic use they are OMRI Listed.

Safer Soap is OMRI Listed and can be found at most farm supply stores. It can be mixed into solution with chili peppers and sprayed on plants to safely control insects on food crops.

ATTRA's Biorationals: Ecological Pest Management Database is a searchable tool that lists materials by brand name, distributor, and whether it is OMRI Listed. Because OMRI listings are frequently updated, organic growers should always check with their certifiers prior to applying any materials to their crops or livestock.

For more information on organic pest management, check out some of the resources on the Pest Management section of the ATTRA website.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What rabbit breeds are best for meat production?

Answer: Two medium-size breeds, the New Zealand White (NZW) and the Californian, are the most important for meat production. They have white fur that is difficult to see if a few pieces are stuck to the carcass, and they have higher meat-to-bone ratios. The NZW is considered the best breed overall, considering mothering ability and carcass characteristics. However, crossing male Californians to female NZWs and then breeding the female from this cross back to male Californians results in larger litter sizes and heavier fryers than using straight NZWs.

Other meat breeds include Californian, Champagne d’ Argent, English Spot, and Flemish Giant, but these may not receive a premium price because of the colored fur. A relatively new hybrid breed developed from crosses of Flemish Giant, Champagne d’Argent, and Californian named the Altex (a combination of Alabama and Texas, as the breed was developed between Alabama and Texas A&M), has been bred for commercial viability. This breed is more heat-tolerant and gains more weight quicker than other breeds—reaching up to 10 to 20 pounds. For more information, visit The Rabbit Breeding & Teaching Program at TAMUK.

Breeds developed for fur include American Chinchilla, Checkered Giant, Silver Marten, and Rex. The Angora was developed for wool and meat. Laboratory breeds include Dutch, English Spot, Himalayan, and Polish. Pet breeds include Holland Lop, Polish, Dutch, and Mini Lop.

There are many other breeds of domestic rabbit that are raised for meat, show, laboratory use, and fur and wool production.
To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Small-Scale Sustainable Rabbit Production. This publication provides an introduction to small-scale rabbit production, focusing on meat rabbits and sustainable rabbit management.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What recommendations do you have for forage diversity in a grass-finished beef operation?

Answer: Forage diversity is key to productive pastures from a soil perspective as well as from an animal productivity perspective. Select forages that are high in sugar content, including perennial grasses and legumes and annual forages such as sorghum-sudan and annual ryegrass. Brassicas and field peas are an excellent addition and are high in energy. Provide dry hay with brassicas and succulent pastures to give enough fiber to prevent acidosis and to increase rumen function. Select forages with a relative feed value of 150 and with low NDF (less than 45%). Forages that are vegetative, and not mature, have highest energy with lowest fiber. A good rule of thumb is to graze grasses before they get to the boot stage (prior to seed head emergence).

Consider developing a grazing plan to help partition the forage resource adequately to animal needs. A grazing system is just an organized, planned way of using the pasture resource to ensure that the animals receive the right amount of high quality forage while maintaining the productivity and vigor of the pasture and soil. A grazing system should result in the highest forage production and use per acre, have variable stocking rates based on the pasture plants’ need for recovery, provide an even distribution of manure, control weeds through grazing or trampling, and provide more grazing options while reducing the need for mechanically harvested forages for most of the year.

The best way to ensure this is to develop a grazing plan and schedule that rotates animals from paddock to paddock and allows adequate time for plant recovery. Consider the following principles in planning a grazing system:

• Managing recovery and grazing periods
• Using animal impact to benefit the pasture and soil
• Setting up the right size and number of paddocks
• Lengthening the grazing season for more time on pasture

Recovery period is all about plant regrowth and is fundamental to developing a grazing schedule. It is important to plan for increasing recovery time when grass growth slows down. Grazing period is the length of time animals are exposed to a paddock and is important in maintaining post-grazing residual. Be sure to allow adequate stubble height and enough leaf area for plant regrowth or you’ll slow the process down. Recovery periods should be from 15 to 20 days in the spring, from 30 to 60 days in the summer, and 20 to 30 days in the fall, depending on climate, plant species, and rainfall. Some things you can do to help you manage recovery and grazing periods are:

• Graze early-spring pasture to remove top growth and allow grasses to tiller and get more dense
• Machine-harvest excess early-spring growth to capture dry matter and allow grass to regrow for the next grazing cycle
• Follow high producing cows with dry cows, but make sure they don’t stay in the paddock too long
• Provide supplemental pastures when pasture growth is slow and decrease grazing period when growth is rapid, leaving some grass behind
• Reduce stocking rate by selling young stock or culling as needed; do not allow too many animals to degrade forage and soil resources
• Feed stored forages when necessary to protect resources, such as during drought
• Quicker paddock moves give animals fresh un-fouled (manured) ground, meaning better intake

The next principle to consider is paddock size and number. How big should they be, and how many should you have to ensure animals get enough dry matter intake and the forage base stays healthy? This is likely the most important, most fundamental question a grazer can ask. Everything else stems from this. Some recommended maximum grazing periods are one to two days for dairy and three to four days for all other classes of livestock.

Animals must remain in a paddock long enough for them to get their fill, but not so long that they begin to graze plant re-growth. Plants may have grazable re-growth after two to three days, and the shorter the period in the paddock, the better the plant and animal production per acre. Short grazing durations also foster increased animal intake and provide higher quality forages than if the animals are in the paddock for longer periods of time. In fact, as animals remain in a paddock (for more than a few days) their intake of protein decreases, as does availability of high quality digestible dry matter (energy). This is one reason dairy producers who graze high-producing cows will move animals to a new paddock daily, or even a few times a day.

The following ATTRA publications will help you get a handle on planning and matching animal demand to forage resources:

ATTRA Managed Grazing Tutorial

Grazing Calculator: Extended Cow Calf Pair

Irrigated Pastures: Setting Up an Intensive Grazing System That Works

Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink I purchased a farm that struggled with foot rot within their sheep flock. How long will it take the foot rot organism to leave the ground?

Answer: Sheep foot rot is a disease in which two species of bacteria work together to infect the foot. One, the "trigger" bacteria, predisposes the foot tissue to infection by the other. The trigger bacteria is gone out of the environment after two weeks once the sheep are removed. In muddy environments, it would be better to wait three weeks. The actual bacteria that cause infection are ubiquitous in the soil.

Before you repopulate the property with more purchased ewes, make sure that the premises (lambing jugs, mix pens, handling equipment, stock trailer) is steam cleaned or scrubbed down with a disinfectant solution such as Novasan (chlorihexadene).

When purchasing more ewes, walk through the seller's flock and check for any sign of animals limping. Ask the seller if he or she has ever had any foot rot cases. Once purchased, it would be best to quarantine them for one month, checking their hooves once a week for any sign of infection.

For more information, consult the following resources:

Contagious Foot Rot, Utah State University Extension

Foot Rot in Sheep and Goats, Purdue Extension

You will also find lots of useful resources in the Livestock and Pasture portion of ATTRA’s website.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I identify the disease that is affecting my apples?

Answer: There are several key diseases that affect apple production, such as fire blight, apple scab, cedar apply rust, summer rots, sooty blotch, and fly speck. In order to properly treat these diseases, it's important to first correctly identify them. To this end, ATTRA created Apple Identification Sheet: Apple Diseases. It includes color photos of several diseases, provides helpful information on how and when the diseases occur, and offers organic and low-spray control recommendations.

For a more complete discussion, consult the ATTRA publication Apples: Organic Production Guide. This publication provides information on organic apple production from recent research and producer experience. Many aspects of apple production are the same whether the grower uses low-spray, organic, or conventional management. Accordingly, this publication focuses on the aspects that differ from nonorganic practices—primarily pest and disease control, marketing, and economics. It introduces the major apple insect pests and diseases and the most effective organic management methods. It also includes farmer profiles of working orchards and a section dealing with economic and marketing considerations. There is an extensive list of resources for information and supplies and an appendix on disease-resistant apple varieties.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I build soil health in an organic hayfield?

Answer: Organic hayfields typically have problems because nutrients are removed from the fields and are not replaced. This doesn't occur as much in fields that are grazing because of the manure and urine from grazing livestock. And if you add a more diverse plant population to your fields, through cover cropping and complex perennial mixes, you add organic matter that builds soil health and resilience.

For example, you might consider rotating your hayfields to cover crops and livestock grazing periodically to maintain fertility levels, preferably every other year. This may necessitate managing the pastures as several separate units to ensure organic hay is produced each year while part of the land is in cover crops and grazing to build soil health.

Consider a crop rotation to build soil health. Three to four years of diverse perennial pasture can be converted to cover crops and grazed for a year. Consider overseeding small grains like annual rye into perennial pasture in the fall to build soil health and add organic matter. You’ll need to use no-till drill for this planting. Check with your local conservation district to see if they have a no-till drill loan program. Many districts have adopted no-till practices and have programs like this for area farmers.

The cover crop will provide loads of biomass and will return a lot of organic matter to the soil, keeping it covered and feeding soil organisms that provide nutrient availability to growing crops and pasture. You can graze the cover crop hard the next year to allow the perennial pasture or hayfield to emerge, or terminate the perennial field by plowing and plant a summer cover like sorghum sudan or buckwheat.

The more diversity you can get into the fields, the better it will be on soil life. It's a cycle—the soil organisms build soil structure and cycle nutrients, which feed the crops, and the crops provide carbon back to the microbes. Then you can go back to a fall cover crop, and then perennial pasture the following year. This kind of rotation provides cover, reduces erosion, conserves water, buffers soil temperature, and adds organic matter. With this, you can start to build a soil that will be productive and much more fertile.

Rotation considerations—consider multiple management units:

• Some units can be in perennial pasture (grazed)
• Some units can be in perennial hayfield (not grazed)
• Others can be in cover crops (grazed)

The rotation for any management unit would look like this:

Perennial pasture (hayed every other year) > cover crop (grazed) > perennial pasture

For the fallow ground: Consider a summer cover crop > fall cover crop > seed to perennial pasture. Graze the cover crop to add biology to the soil and trample in organic matter.

Perennial fields: frost seed or no-till legumes, such a red clover, crimson clover, or alfalfa. This adds diversity and nitrogen fixation. Also, grazing management for adequate recovery will help the stand improve. Develop a livestock grazing plan to manage pastures for optimum recovery period. Plants need time after grazing to fully recover and this is determined by season and moisture. ATTRA specialists can help you determine how many animals your pastures can support and how to rotate them according to recovery time to keep the grass productive.

The bottom line: If your goals are to raise organic hay and grassfed beef, develop a soil health plan first. Concentrate on building soils with cover crops and grazing, and rotate fields out for hay production so you always have several fields in this enterprise. The hay and beef can be thought of as benefits of your soil health plan.

To learn more, visit the Livestock and Pasture section of the ATTRA websiste, where you'll find a bounty of additional resources.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I evaluate a food hub to see if it’s right for me?

Answer: As a producer interested in working with a food hub, it is important to evaluate several components of a hub to see if the operation meets your needs and the needs of your farm. Here are some factors to consider.

• Purpose/Mission – Food hubs target a particular customer base and are often oriented around a specific mission to help meet the economic, social, and environmental needs of a community. By looking at the purpose and mission of a food hub, a producer can determine whether or not the food hub is in line with the goals and values of the farm.

• Legal Structure – The legal business structure of a food hub influences how the food hub operates. Food hubs may be legally classified, for example, as a for-profit business, not-for-profit, or cooperative. Producers may be required to be involved in the operation or governance of the business and should be clear about what is expected of them.

• Types of Markets – Food hubs target specific types of markets that fit the purpose and infrastructure of the food hub. This includes larger wholesale markets as well as smaller retail outlets. The type of market plays a significant role in the products offered by the food hub.

• Products and Branding – Product selection and differentiation help ensure producers get a good price for their products. Food hubs utilize marketing strategies to differentiate products in order to help preserve the identity of the grower, their product(s), and their growing practices. When products are aggregated from different farms, it’s important to know whether the individual producer’s identity is preserved or whether aggregated products are branded under a single identity.

• Price – How is price determined? Is the price representative of any social, environmental, and community values? Is the food hub able to negotiate a price for products that don’t meet grading standards?

• Scale – Food hubs vary greatly in scale. Larger hubs typically work with more markets and in a wider geographical area than smaller food hubs. As a result, they tend to work with more producers and sell more types of products. Scale is important to consider in terms of variety selection, quantity, and price.

• Location – Where is the food hub located in relation to the producer? This is important to consider with regard to whether the producer has to deliver the product(s) to the food hub or the food hub provides on-farm pick-up services.

• Infrastructure – What type of infrastructure is available? Does the food hub have appropriately scaled equipment for processing, packing, storing, and distribution?

• Financing – How is the food hub able to operate financially? Does it have access to capital?

• Age – How long a food hub has been in business is important. Newer operations may not be as stable financially or in their daily operations as well-established food hubs.

• Contracts & Agreements – Does the food hub establish contracts with its producers and/or buyers to guarantee they will purchase from the producer at specified quantities, qualities, and price? What happens if the producer is unable to meet its obligation to the food hub?

• Logistical Support – What type of logistical support does the food hub provide? Do they offer assistance in crop planning? Do they furnish packing materials that are required?

• Insurance – Are there any specific types of insurance coverage required of the producer?

• Challenges – Food hubs face many challenges related to the viability of the business. As a producer working with a food hub, it is important to know what barriers the food hub is currently facing and how they impact the short- and long-term success of the food hub.

Learn more about how food hubs can provide new marketing outlets in the ATTRA publication Food Hubs: A Producer Guide.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How do I choose the best site for persimmon production?

Answer: Persimmons generally bloom late enough in the spring to avoid spring frosts, so site selection does not have to emphasize air drainage to the same degree that other early blooming tree crops require (e.g., peaches). Persimmons grow well on a wide range of soils, although they grow best on loamy, well-drained soils. As with other fruit trees, a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is optimal for tree growth.

The American persimmon can be found growing wild in wet, droughty, clayey, rocky, and sandy soils. However, remember that such wild trees have had the advantage of being grown from seed and are, therefore, sporting a taproot and have not suffered the trauma of transplanting. Transplanted nursery-grown stock will not have the same advantage. Therefore, if planting a new orchard— rather than collecting fruit from wild, established trees—the prudent orchardist will pick a site with, at the very least, good soil drainage.

Rootstock selection is an important pre-planting consideration for Asian persimmons (but not so much for American types because all American persimmons are grafted onto American persimmon seedling rootstock). Asian persimmons for the eastern U.S. are generally grafted onto seedlings of the American persimmon Diospyros virginiana. In the West, Asian persimmons are usually grafted onto D. lotus rootstock.

The main advantage of using American seedling rootstock for the Asian persimmon when planting in the East is that they tolerate excessive moisture and drought quite well; however, they are prone to suckering, which needs to be pruned out annually. (Otherwise, the suckers from the rootstock could “overgrow” and out-compete the grafted tops.) Asian cultivars grafted onto D. virginiana rootstocks also show a lack of uniformity of tree vigor and size. Like all fruit trees, persimmons require full sun to assure good tree and fruit growth, as well as fruit bud development. Trees should be spaced 15 to 16 feet apart within the rows, and rows need to be far enough apart to accommodate mowing, harvesting, etc.

To learn more about persimmons production, including astringency, general culture, rootstocks, pests, and marketing, consult the ATTRA publication Persimmons, Asian and American.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What is the best climate for plum production?

Answer: In the United States, nearly all of the commercially grown plums for fresh eating are hybrids of the Japanese plum introduced by a Berkley nurseryman in the 1870s and subsequently hybridized by Luther Burbank in the late 1800s. Today, 95% or more of them are grown in California. Burbank made many complex crosses between Japanese and American plums and was the first to cross the plum and apricot. Though the fresh plums in grocery stores today are essentially "Japanese," they might contain germplasm from many species, thanks to Burbank.

Prune plums are European, as are most canned plums. Again, most commercial production of plums is centered in California, but European plums are more cold-hardy than Japanese plums and bloom later, so the European plum can be grown further north.

In fact, plums are adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions; at least some cultivars can be grown in almost every state. Commercially, Japanese plums and prunes are grown where rainfall during the growing season is minimal and humidity low to prevent diseases; this is why most production is in California.

Cold hardiness is excellent for European plums, similar to apple and pear, but Japanese plums are less cold-hardy (similar to peach). Plums have chilling requirements ranging from 550 to 800 hours for Japanese, up to 1,000 hours for European. (A greater chilling requirement means that the plant will be slower to break dormancy, hence, less likely to bloom too early while frost is still a danger.) Rainfall during the growing season can reduce production by accentuating diseases and causing fruit cracking.

As with other Prunus species, deep, well-drained soils with pH 5.5 to 6.5 give best results. However, plum roots are the most tolerant of all the stone fruits with respect to heavy soils and waterlogging.

You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Plums, Apricots, and Their Crosses: Organic and Low-Spray Production. It focuses on organic and reduced-spray management options for disease and pest problems of plums, apricots, and their crosses (pluots, apriums, etc.). It also relates progress in broadening the practical climatic adaptability of the apricot. The publication also discusses adding these fruits as specialty crops for small-scale, diversified farms and identifies marketing opportunities.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink Is organic raspberry production a profitable enterprise?

Answer: Brambles, including raspberries and blackberries, can be a very profitable crop, but how profitable they will be for you depends on several factors. To begin with, your market will determine the price you receive for your berries. You will get premium prices selling directly to consumers at farmers markets, roadside stands, or a pick-your-own (PYO) operation. Other options will allow you to sell larger volumes of berries, but at a lower profit margin. These outlets include wholesalers, cooperatives, and local retailers. Small-acreage growers usually find direct marketing a good fit because it can maximize the returns from their limited production. If you are a small-scale grower interested in expanding production, you may find that a mixed model including both retail and wholesale markets would be a good fit for you. For more information on marketing options, see ATTRA's series of Marketing Tip Sheets.

A 2008 survey of bramble growers conducted by the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association (NARBA) provides a good reference for average blackberry and raspberry prices. Thirty-four growers throughout the United States responded to the survey. The average reported price for PYO raspberries was $3.75 per pound ($3.15/pint), with PYO blackberries at $2.70 per pound. The average price reported for retail markets including farmers markets and farm stands was $4.75 per pint or $4.06 per half-pint for raspberries and $4.06 per pint or $6.50 per quart for blackberries. Wholesale prices were reported per flat, with a flat containing 12 half-pints of raspberries or 12 pints of blackberries. Raspberry wholesale prices averaged $27.50 per flat, or $2.29 per half-pint, and wholesale blackberry prices averaged $30 per flat or $2.50 per pint.

Marketing arrangements should be made before planting, because brambles are a high-investment crop. If you will be growing certified organic blackberries or raspberries, it is important to find a market that will offer premium prices for your berries to offset the additional costs that you will incur as an organic grower.

Researchers at North Carolina State University developed a budget for organic blackberry production in the Southeast that shows a break-even point three years after planting and a cumulative net profit of $46,203 per acre over six years. Assumptions for this budget include a peak yield of 10,000 pounds per acre in years three and four, a marketable harvest of 80%, and a retail sales price of $5.59 per pound for organic blackberries. A University of California conventional-blackberry budget also shows breakeven in year three with a net profit of $53,431 after six years. This budget is based on production levels of 3,500 trays per acre sold at $16.00 per tray, with each tray holding five pounds of blackberries.

The largest expense categories for the North Carolina budget include material expenses for the trellis in the establishment year, annual harvest labor, and annual production labor. The budget projects a net cost of $15,232 before the berries come into production, showing that a grower will need to have the capital to support the operation for at least three years before a positive cash flow occurs.

In some areas of the United States, raspberries can be a more profitable enterprise than blackberries. A University of California primocane-fruiting raspberry budget shows net returns of $39,235 per acre three years after planting, and break-even in year two. The budget assumes that production levels will reach 5,000 trays per acre (4.5 pounds per tray) in year three with raspberries sold for $15 per tray. Because of ideal growing conditions in California’s Central Coast Region, the production levels in this budget are higher than can be expected in other regions.

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Brambles: Organic Production. This publication focuses on organic practices for blackberry and raspberry production. It discusses cultural considerations including site selection, establishment, pruning and trellising, and it introduces organic practices for fertility, weed, disease, and insect management. It also provides new information on greenhouse production and season extension and addresses economics and marketing.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I control tadpole shrimp in rice production?

Answer: Because tadpole shrimp do not hatch from eggs until exposed to water, rice that is grown in dry-seeded systems and not flooded until rice is at the 4–5 leaf stage should be safe from tadpole shrimp injury. This practice promotes large plants with adequate root systems when the field is flooded. However, heavy rainfall or flooding shortly after seeding can cause drill seeded rice to mimic a water-seeded rice production system if the field is not able to be drained; this situation can lead to tadpole shrimp damaging rice in a dry-seeded system.

The number one control option for tadpole shrimp is to avoid water-seeding rice and to flood a field after the rice has an established root system. However, in fields that are water-seeded, the field should be seeded as soon as possible after the flood is established because tadpole shrimp hatch once a field is flooded. This will minimize the amount of time that tadpole shrimp grow and maximize the growth of rice plants while tadpole shrimp are still small. The idea is that the rice will grow out of the vulnerable stage before tadpole shrimp can damage the rice.

Draining a field can be useful in killing tadpole shrimp, but rainfall can prevent this from being effective. However, greater input costs (i.e., additional applications of herbicide, fertilizer, or both; pumping costs; and other expenses) are associated with draining.

Here are to resources on this topic that you should find useful:

Shrimp Pest Control in Sight
California Agricultural Technology Institute

UC Pest Management Guidelines: Tadpole Shrimp
University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I manage nematodes in potatoes?

Answer: Nematodes are microscopic roundworms found in many habitats. Nematodes are the most abundant multicellular organisms on Earth. Most are beneficial members of their ecosystems, but a few are economic parasites of plants. The Columbia, Stubby, and Northern Root Knot nematodes are common in Western organic potato systems and are the leading cause of soil fumigation in commercial potato production in the Northwest.

Root knot nematode feeding reduces the vigor of plants and causes blemishes on tubers. Infection of tubers by the Columbia and stubby root knot nematode often results in the formation of galls that appear as knobs or swellings on the tuber surface and affect marketability. Root knot nematode larvae invade roots or tubers, establish feeding sites and develop into the adult stage. Adult females are swollen, sedentary and lay eggs in a gelatinous matrix on or just below the root surface. These eggs hatch and larvae invade other roots and tubers. Feeding by root knot nematode eliminates the possibility of exportation since infected potatoes are banned in many countries.

There are recent promising developments with biofumigation using brassica mustard cover crops in a rotation before potatoes. Brassica crops such as rapeseed and mustard contain active chemicals called glucosinolates. The breakdown of these chemicals has been shown to suppress some soilborne diseases, nematodes and weed seeds. The best strategy for the ultimate suppression of soilborne diseases and nematodes is selecting a species of mustard that produces large amounts of biomass and glucosinolates.

Also, before incorporating, chop the green manure with a rotary mower or a high-speed flail chopper. The breakdown of the biofumigant seems to be better in moist soils, so irrigate following incorporation or time incorporation to occur with a rain. Jack Brown, a plant breeder specializing in brassicas at the University of Idaho, has released two biofumigant varieties: Humus rapeseed and IdaGold mustard. Each variety contains elevated levels of glucosinolates. For more information on these varieties, see the ATTRA publication Nematodes: Alternative Controls.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Potatoes: Organic Production and Marketing. This publication outlines approaches to organic and sustainable potato production. Practices include fertility and nutrient management; organic and biorational pest management for insects, diseases and weeds; and storage and marketing.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink Should I deworm my sheep on a schedule?

Answer: No. Internal parasites, especially Haemonchus contortus, have developed drug resistance. Drug treatment gets rid of the worms that are susceptible to that particular drug; resistant parasites survive and pass on “resistant” genes. No dewormer is 100% effective, and we know that worms that survive a dose of dewormer are resistant to that dewormer. Therefore, each time you deworm, the proportion of resistant worms increases, and consequently, frequent deworming greatly increases the rate at which resistance develops.

Each time animals are dewormed, the susceptible worms are killed. The resistant ones survive and will reproduce, thus leading to a population of very resistant worms. Meanwhile, under-dosing causes larger numbers of the intermediate-strength worms to survive. The weakest, most susceptible worms are killed. But because of the weak dose, more of the stronger worms will be able to survive and reproduce, creating a population of stronger worms in the next generation. Once an animal has been treated (if dosed properly), only resistant worms remain. If the animals are moved to a clean pasture they deposit only resistant worms on the pasture, and there are no susceptible worms to dilute the worm population.

Because of this drug resistance, deworming on a schedule may lead to trouble down the road. Instead, pay close attention to pasture management and nutrition, and to your animals' condition. Take fecal samples and use the FAMACHA technique to monitor your animals. Only treat the ones that need it, and only when they actually need it.

Learn more about techniques to manage parasites and to prolong the efficacy of dewormers in the ATTRA publication Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats. It includes a section on Dewormer Assessment, and also discusses the FAMACHA technique.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What can you tell me about soil fertility for garlic production?

Answer: Cultivated garlic, Allium sativum, is a member of the lily family. It can be divided into two subspecies: Allium ophioscorodon (bolting or hard-neck cultivars) and Allium sativum (non-bolting or soft-neck cultivars). Allium ophioscorodon produces elongated flower stalks, often referred to as scapes, and flower-like bulbils at the top of the stalk. Soft-neck garlic does not produce bulbils except in times of stress. While both bulbils and individual cloves can be propagated vegetatively, bulbils take longer—up to two seasons—to produce mature bulbs, and require special care because the young plants are very small and fragile.

As with all crops, soil fertility management is essential for garlic production. It is a good idea to get a soil test before you begin field preparation. Request recommendations for nutrient requirements for onions when you send a soil sample to a soil-testing laboratory. To find a laboratory, consult ATTRA's searchable Alternative Soil Testing Laboratories database. For additional information on organic fertility management in vegetable crops, see the ATTRA publication Sustainable Soil Management.

Since garlic is a high-value crop and a heavy feeder, it deserves your best ground. It needs full sun and a full range of available nutrients. A pH of 6.8 to 7.2 is ideal; many nutrients are tied up in soils that are more alkaline or more acidic than this. Garlic will grow in almost any well-drained, friable (easily crumbled in the hand) soil, preferably with high organic matter content. High organic matter aids in soil water-holding capacity and drainage. If possible, begin soil preparation the year before planting. In his book Growing Great Garlic, Ron Engeland recommends building up the soil over a period of one to two years using animal and green manures before the garlic is planted. See the ATTRA publication Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures for information on building soils with cover crops.

Provide additional nitrogen, if needed, through supplemental use of organic fertilizers. Nitrogen can be applied in the fall at planting if a slow-release fertilizer such as soybean meal is used. Avoid applying any form of soluble nitrogen fertilizer in the fall to prevent contamination of ground water as well as loss of nitrogen to leaching. Do not apply nitrogen when the bulbs are beginning to enlarge, since it will encourage excessive leaf growth and reduce bulb size. Another way to add fertility is to sidedress with compost after leaf emergence in the fall, then apply fertilizer again in the spring. Avoid fertilizing beyond May, since high nitrogen levels at this stage may actually decrease bulb size. Some organic growers apply foliar sprays of liquid fish and seaweed fertilizer, several times in the spring.

If foliar feeding is used to supply nutrients, it should be done prior to the 4th or 5th leaf stage. A good surfactant (or spreadersticker) is essential to hold the solution on the garlic's waxy leaves. There are a limited number of spreader-stickers that are approved by the USDA National Organic Program. If you are certified organic, see the OMRI list of approved products or check with your certification agency to ensure that you are using an allowed product.

The ATTRA publication Garlic: Organic Production provides much more useful information. It addresses most aspects of organic garlic production, including seed sources, organic fertility management, pest management and harvesting and storage. Marketing and economic considerations, including enterprise budgets for organic garlic production, are also discussed.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I prevent coccidiosis in sheep?

Answer: Coccidiosis is a parasite infection caused by the protozoan organism coccidia (also known as cocci or by the scientific name, Eimeria), which causes damage to the animal’s intestinal tract so that food is not absorbed well. Recognizing coccidiosis and understanding how to manage livestock to prevent or minimize illness is important for the health and well-being of your animals.

The importance of prevention cannot be understated. Make every effort to reduce stress on the animals and improve sanitation and living conditions. Dry bedding (replenished often with additional fresh, dry bedding) is helpful. This allows the mothers to lie down on clean places, keeping udders and teats cleaner, which helps reduce mastitis and lower the risk of coccidiosis. Gravel or wood chips added to lots promotes dry areas. Provide shelter if weather is cold and rainy, handle animals calmly, and be aware that as the season progresses, numbers of coccidia are building. Clean water and feed troughs, and disinfect feed troughs if possible, to lessen exposure to cocci. Exposure to small numbers of cocci is actually beneficial, as it encourages the building of immunity. On the other hand, exposure to large numbers increases risk of infection.

Once you have an infection, it is necessary to consult with your veterinarian to devise a treatment plan. The plan may include the feeding of ionophores, treatment with sulfa drugs or amprolium, and/or using alternative treatments. Note that livestock that are treated with ionophores or other medications that are not approved for use in organic production systems cannot be certified organic. If it becomes necessary to use these medicines on a certified-organic animal to achieve effective treatment, that individual animal will lose its organic certification. Note also that most medications are not labeled for sheep or goats and, therefore, consulting your veterinarian is essential. Be sure to follow instructions carefully when using any treatment. Using medications in the wrong way will waste money and time and not solve the problem. For example, medications designed to act on early stages of the life cycle to disrupt the parasite (prevention) will not cure established infection. Also, preventive medications must be used at least 30 days before kidding or lambing to prevent the mothers from infecting the young. To be effective, preventive medications must also be used well before weaning to protect the young stock during that stressful event. Again, follow label instructions. Failure to follow all directions will greatly reduce the impact of the drugs. And keep in mind that using medications improperly can lead to residues in the animal. Be sure to follow dosage instructions and withdrawal times.

To learn more about both prevention and treatment options, consult the ATTRA publication Coccidiosis: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment in Sheep, Goats, and Calves.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How do I go about setting prices for my organic crops?

Answer: The number-one factor in effective pricing is quantifying your costs and selling above those costs. It can be difficult to quantify production costs accurately and estimate profits from sales, but knowing production costs is key to staying in business. You must make sure that you’re making more than you're spending and also know whether your investment in time and money is providing an adequate return.

Organic pricing strategies vary between farmers. Some farmers quantify production costs and add a price margin to assure a reasonable profit margin. Some price according to local market prices. Most farmers likely use a combination of both approaches. Pricing also depends on what market outlet you use—whether you're selling directly at a farmers market or to a retailer like a grocery store or restaurant.

Several factors should be considered when developing your pricing strategy

• Operations, overhead, equipment, depreciation, and marketing costs
• Labor wages
• Profit desired
• Competitors’ production costs and prices
• Demand, customer motivation, and priorities
• Brand, image, quality, and reputation of your products

Don Hofstrand, retired agriculture specialist for the Ag Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University Extension, stresses three factors to consider when deciding on a pricing strategy. First, consider the cost of producing and marketing your product, which is the minimum price you should set for your product. Second, consider what the buyer is willing to pay. For instance, if you’re direct marketing sides of beef or CSA shares, talk to consumers about what they’re getting and what they will pay, while explaining your costs. Try and negotiate what is reasonable for both parties. Finally, consider competitors’ prices by looking at market prices at venues similar to those you’ll use.

Mary Peabody, from the University of Vermont Extension and Director of the Women’s Agricultural Network, presented a webinar titled Pricing for Profit. The webinar offers information on identifying costs, factors that affect pricing, and pricing survival tips. Peabody's advice is to record costs consistently over time so that you know your expenses and how they change, and also to record all time put in by keeping a labor log. Peabody feels that operating expenses and overhead should be the biggest determinant of pricing if you want to be successful. "Don’t set prices based on others’ prices!" Peabody says. Thinking you have to price competitively with, for example, the price in a co-op isn’t realistic; a small, beginning farmer cannot compete with large producers who have paid off start-up costs. Instead, find different markets or find ways to capture greater value for your products using marketing tactics that aren’t obvious. One example is to use different packaging or bundling.

There are other factors that Peabody says impact pricing:

• Harvesting costs
• Quality and selection of products
• Location and market
• Customer income/demographic
• Sales volume offered
• Supply and demand in your market
• Market price in your area

Your pricing strategy speaks volumes about your business. You will quickly earn a reputation as fair and ethical if you have a good pricing strategy. The alternative is to be known as cheap, dishonest, and desperate among consumers and competitors. Your pricing strategy should be consistent, accurate, and reliable. Many people want farmers to have a good quality of life and are willing to pay a fair price for quality products, so price according to what you are spending and add a reasonable markup.

There are some pricing strategies that may help if you are charging a fair price but not making enough profit:

• Produce more
• Focus on the products that are generating the most profit
• Decrease expenses
• Redefine your niche, customers, or marketing (repackage products in different sizes or by the bunch to get away from the same volume as competitors)

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Understanding Organic Pricing and Costs of Production. This publication provides resources to compare organic and conventional agricultural prices, discusses organic production costs, and offers tips on how to set organic crop prices. Several case studies are included that summarize insights gained from successful organic farmers and ranchers.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink Can I plant milo or corn using a no-till drill after timothy grass has run its course in late May?

Answer: The principle concern with no-tilling corn or milo into timothy is going to be plant competition. Certainly, the timothy, being a cool-season perennial grass, will begin to slow down as temperatures reach the 80s. However, stored carbohydrates in the root crown will ensure that it will begin to tiller again once the temperature and water availability reach appropriate levels. Without killing the timothy, it will be difficult to get a good stand of milo or corn, but it can be done.

The best thing to do is to try to "use up" the root reserves of the timothy prior to drilling. This can be done by grazing hard in the fall and again after the spring flush, which can weaken the timothy and reduce its ability to compete with planted crops in the summer.

The next concern will be seed placement of the milo or corn. Using a no-till drill will certainly take care of this. Plant to a depth of about 1.5 inches and increase your seeding rate, as planting into sod comes with some potential problems, such as grubs or wireworms.

A good resource to learn more is an article titled "Seeding Cover Crops into Perennial Sod", written by Gabe Brown, who grazes cattle on perennial pastures and no-tilled cover crops in North Dakota.

In addition, you can find information on a host of topics related to pasture management on the Livestock and Pasture section of the ATTRA website.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What types of fence post are acceptable for both organic and biodynamic farming?

Answer: The authorities that govern biodynamic and organic certification are the Biodynamic Standard and the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) Regulations, respectively. Both prohibit the use of treated wood in certified production systems, as detailed below:

Biodynamic: A producer must not use lumber treated with arsenate or other prohibited materials – for new installations or replacement purposes – that comes in direct contact with soil used in certified production or certified livestock¹.

Organic: A producer must not use lumber treated with arsenate or other prohibited materials for new installations or replacement purposes in contact with soil or livestock².

Some certifiers will allow treated wood on certified farms if the wood exists prior to certification. If this is the case, you will need a barrier to prevent the wood from coming into contact with soil or animals. For fence posts, certifiers will usually accept an electric wire (polytape, etc.) as a barrier to prevent animals from coming in contact with the treated wood. Ask your certifier if he or she has an allowance for this practice.

For new construction, you will need to use non-treated wood. I recommend the ATTRA publication Pressure-Treated Wood: Organic and Natural Alternatives. Included in this publication are sections on preservatives applied before purchase, preservatives applied after purchase, and alternatives to treated lumber.


1. Biodynamic Farm Standard, Demeter Association, September 2005.
2. National Organic Program Regulations, CFR Title 7, Apr 2017

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I control hairy buttercup organically?

Answer: Hairy buttercup is a winter annual that germinates in the fall and flowers in the spring. Non-chemical control is possible and will require a holistic approach. The best way to inhibit buttercup infestations is through plant competition and reducing seed production. It's likely you'll need to combine several of the following management ideas to effectively get the weed under control over the next few years.

1. Allow adequate regrowth of forages after grazing. This better allows forages to grow and outcompete weeds. Separate the field into paddocks with electric wire or tape and allow for no more than three to five days of grazing and at least 30 days of regrowth before grazing again. Rotate the animals throughout the grazing season with regrowth (recovery period) in mind. Overgrazing occurs when animals begin to consume forages that are beginning to regrow, thus diminishing their ability to recover from grazing. This reduces leaf area as well as root mass, and weeds can then fill in their space.

2. Consider grazing fields with buttercup very lightly in the fall, or not at all. Fields that are dense in grasses can provide shade and inhibit buttercup germination. Let the forages get tall in the late summer, say eight to 10 inches of growth, and defer grazing until the winter after the buttercup would have germinated.

3. If the weed is a persistent problem, there is likely a large seedbank in the soil. You can terminate the field in the fall through tillage and plant a dense, diverse cover crop such as annual rye or annual ryegrass and a legume (Austrian winter pea, crimson clover, or hairy vetch). The field could be grazed in the spring and then either: (1) planted to a diverse perennial pasture again; or (2) put into a summer cover such as forage peanuts, soybeans, buckwheat, or sorghum-sudan. Then, you could overwinter again with a fall cover crop and plant permanent pasture the following spring. This method will provide competition to germinating buttercup plants and ensure a reduction in seed development during the spring. It will also provide organic matter that will benefit soil health and resilience.

4. There are no effective organic herbicides for use on pasture weeds. However, vinegar can be used as a "burn down" chemical if spot spraying is warranted. This chemical does not kill the plant, it only defoliates it allowing the forages a chance to grow. Vinegar is non-selective and will harm forages, as well.

For more information on topics related to pasture management, see the Livestock and Pasture section of the ATTRA website.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How is low-spray defined?

Answer: The term low-spray has no precise definition. It simply refers to a reduced-synthetic-pesticide spray program relative to a region’s prevailing conventional practices. For example, instead of eight to 12 spray applications during a growing season, a low-spray program using sophisticated monitoring and other integrated pest management (IPM) techniques may consist of only two to four.

The terms organic and organically grown have precise legal definitions. Organic production and marketing of food crops is regulated at the Federal level. Before land can be certified organic, it must be free of synthetic pesticides and commercial fertilizers for three years, and only pest-control and fertilizer inputs approved for organic production may be used thereafter.

Producers who want to label or market their produce as organic must be certified by an agent accredited by USDA’s National Organic Program. For more information, see the ATTRA publication Organic Certification. If your operation is certified organic or if you are seeking certification, check with your certifier before using any pest-control material to confirm its acceptability for organic production.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink Can I successfully transplant fruit trees in mid-May?

Answer: Mid-May is really late to transplant. The issue is transplant shock: the leaves are transpiring moisture before the roots are adequately established--remember, it's the little root hairs that do the work of sucking up water, and those little roots are almost always damaged during transplanting. It's practically unavoidable.

The large mail-order nurseries will keep their stock dormant in large, cooled warehouses, and you can often get what you want from them. Still, though, the temperature will be warm in mid-May and the leaves will soon emerge and the roots aren't likely to be well established.

The next best situation is to plant potted stock from a local retail nursery, which will almost certainly be leafed out. But if you do everything possible to keep the root ball undisturbed, you can often get away with it. Don't let late-transplanted trees like that go thirsty! You don't need to soak them every day, but don't ever let the ground get dry. Mulch and check the soil regularly and keep it moist but not waterlogged.

For more information on fruit trees, consult the following ATTRA publications:

Fruit Trees, Bushes, and Vines for Natural Growing in the Ozarks
Native pawpaws, persimmons, and muscadines, as well as other non-native species and lesser-known varieties of well-known species, can be grown in the Ozarks naturally, without pesticides. This publication discusses how to overcome common challenges of growing fruit trees, vines, and bushes in the Ozarks and suggests what to look for when choosing a variety that will thrive locally.

Community Orchards
This publication introduces community orchards and discusses the history of the community orchard movement and the motivations behind producing fruit in a community orchard. It offers a step-by-step guide to starting a community orchard and advice on choosing fruit trees and plants most likely to provide successful harvests, including apples, pears, grapes, brambles, and other, unusual fruits. A profile of a community orchard program and a list of further resources are also included.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What can you tell me about choosing bramble cultivars?

Answer: Cultivar selection is a very important decision for a bramble grower because it can determine the productivity and profitability of an operation. The best place to start is by talking with bramble growers in your area to see what cultivars have performed well for them. Your Cooperative Extension Service will also be able to recommend proven cultivars for your region and provide resources with additional cultivar information. Selecting cultivars with resistance to diseases that are prevalent in your region, such as Phytophthora root rot, is extremely important, especially for organic growers, who have fewer options when it comes to disease management.

Two important considerations when selecting cultivars include your market and desired season of production. Knowing the preference of your target customers and the market price of various bramble species will help you narrow down to the cultivars that are best suited to your situation. If you are selling direct-to-consumer, taste might be the most important characteristic, but if you are selling wholesale to a retailer or distributor, then shelf life or post-harvest potential might be the most important attribute for the cultivars you select.

Seasonality is also very important. With primocane-fruiting blackberries and raspberries and season extension technologies, it is possible to produce a berry crop nearly year-round in certain areas. Knowing when you want to be selling your crop and the seasonality of your target markets will also help you narrow in on the right cultivars.

When purchasing your plants, it is very important to buy from a reputable supplier to ensure quality planting stock that is disease- and virus-free. There are few restrictions on proximity when planting different varieties and species of brambles on the same farm. One is that black and purple raspberries are much more susceptible to damage from mosaic and leaf curl viruses than are red and yellow cultivars. Because these diseases are vectored by aphids, black and purple varieties should be separated as much as possible and located upwind from red and yellow raspberries.

You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Brambles: Organic Production, newly updated in March 2017. Focusing on organic practices for blackberry and raspberry production, it discusses cultural considerations including site selection, establishment, pruning and trellising, and it introduces organic practices for fertility, weed, disease, and insect management. It also provides new information on greenhouse production and season extension and addresses economics and marketing.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink How can I control poison ivy without using chemical herbicides?

Answer: Controlling poison ivy is a difficult task, and it may take a long period of time to get a handle on it. Here are a few options for controlling poison ivy without the use of chemical herbicides.

1. Control poison ivy by constantly mowing or cutting young shoots until the plants die. This will tend to exhaust the roots and the plants will die over time. Another way is to dig up the plant roots and all. The roots will resprout if left on the soil surface.

2. Grazing goats or sheep can feed on the regrowth and keep the plants from getting too big. One way to manage the grazing is to rotate the livestock to other areas when the feed is low and then reintroduce the livestock when vegetation reappears.

3. For a natural herbicide recommendation, you might try a citrus oil, vinegar, and soap mixture. The citric acid and acetic acid work to desiccate the leaves, and the soap acts as a sticking agent. This herbicide is only a "burn down" chemical and will not kill the whole plant. Repeated treatments will be necessary to use up the energy reserves in the roots as they resprout.

4. Burning poison ivy is a commonly recommended control option. However, when burned, poisonous particles are released in the smoke and can produce an allergic reaction in the eyes, throat, lungs, and skin.

The ATTRA publication Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms discusses several strategies for weed control, both proactive and reactive, as alternatives to conventional tillage systems. Options include mulching, competition, crop rotations, and low-toxicity control alternatives.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What are some options for marketing wool?

Answer: The natural fibers produced by wooled sheep, Angora goats, and cashmere goats can be used in a variety of ways to add income to the sheep or goat enterprise. There are several possibilities for marketing wool:

• In bulk: ask your shearer for some of the possibilities in your location, which may include selling to a wool pool, warehouse, mill, or wool buyer. You can find contacts at the American Sheep Industry website at

o Wool pool: producers organize to assemble a large lot of wool, enabling them to have it sorted, graded, and marketed for a better price. You can find your local options through the ASI website listed above.
o Warehouse: the MidStates Wool Growers Cooperative is one example of a group operating this way. See for more information on warehouse marketing.
o Mills: if you have a mill operating locally, they might be interested in purchasing fleeces. They might need a specific type of wool or only a large quantity, however.

• Direct to handspinners: either sell the whole, unwashed fleece, or remove dirty locks and wash the fleece to add value.

• Further processed: send the fleece to a cottage mill and have the fleece made into yarn only, or made into yarn and then a finished item such as socks, hats, scarves, toys, or blankets. Items may be woven, knitted, or felted.

• Processed by the farmer into any of the items listed above and sold through:

o Farm stand or farmers market
o Local Harvest (, Etsy (, or other online venue
o Craft fairs
o Local shops

To learn more, consult the ATTRA resource Tips for Marketing Sheep and Goat Products: Fiber. This concise tipsheet provides useful information such as advantages and considerations of marketing fiber, marketing options, and fiber marketing tips. You’ll also find a list of further resources that can provide avenues for further study.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What specialty vegetables could I grow in a cold climate with no season extension?

Answer: Specialty vegetables can be considered any variation from the typical market fare. This could be baby, heirloom, or ethnic products. Producing specialty vegetables is a way to set yourself apart in local markets and often command a higher price. Many upscale restaurants are also very interested in unusual and gourmet fruits and vegetables and are willing to pay a good price for these products.

Ethnic vegetables are a way to set yourself apart at farmers markets, but it is important to research a market beforehand. What ethnic populations shop there? If you are already selling at a farmers market, ask your ethnic customers what kind of vegetable they would like you to produce. Many specialty ethnic vegetables happen to be warm-season crops, such as chili peppers, bitter melons, and eggplants; however, there are a host of Asian greens, ethnic herbs, and Italian vegetables that grow well without season extension tools in cold climates.

Baby vegetables are another option. The baby vegetable craze began in Europe about 20 years ago. Many high-end restaurants in the United States have adopted the trend and look to local farmers to supply them. Baby vegetables are also very popular at higher-end farmers markets. The critical production strategy with baby vegetables is succession planting and timing of harvest. For lettuce and greens, you can use your hand as a measurement tool. A common measurement is to harvest baby lettuce greens smaller than your hand. Plant your produce every two to three weeks to ensure that the products stay young and succulent and the optimum size for harvest. For more information see the ATTRA publication Scheduling Vegetable Plantings for Continuous Harvest.

To learn more about overcoming some of the challenges of profitably producing local foods in cold climates through seed and plant selection, season extension techniques, and niche marketing, consult the ATTRA publication Specialty Crops for Cold Climates.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What do I need to know about soil fertility in sweet corn production?

Answer: Nitrogen (N) is especially important in sweet corn production, not only for plant growth but also for the production of amino acids that influence flavor and nutrition. Research at Michigan State University showed that 6 percent of the total nitrogen is taken up between germination and the sixth leaf stage, 25 percent from seventh leaf to tassel, 25 percent from tassel to silk and 39 percent during ear development.

A common recommendation in conventional production is to apply 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre prior to or at planting, followed by side dressing with 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre when the plants are 12 to 18 inches tall.

The Pre-Sidedress Soil Nitrate Test, also known as the Soil NO3-N Quick Test, can determine the need for any additional nitrogen fertilizer. It is now well established that if the nitrate-nitrogen level in the soil is above a threshold level of 25 ppm when the corn is 6 to 12 inches tall, additional nitrogen fertilizer will not increase yield.

Supplemental sidedress nitrogen fertilizers used in organic vegetable production include plant and animal by-products like blood meal, fishmeal and soybean meal, as well as pelletized compost products.

Research in Connecticut determined that 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre from commercial fertilizer could produce optimum yields and economic returns for sweet corn. This research is significant because it found the standard rate used by Connecticut farmers, 160 pounds of nitrogen per acre, was too high. In addition, it provides further support for the organic farming practice of raising sweet corn in rotation with forage legumes. For example, it is generally accepted that a healthy stand of hairy vetch can provide around 100 to 125 pounds of nitrogen per acre to a subsequent crop.

When legume stands are poor and therefore nitrogen is estimated to be lacking, supplemental composts and organic fertilizers can be applied as necessary.

For additional information on estimating nitrogen production and release from cover crops, see ATTRA's Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures.

Sweet corn does best with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 and needs moderate to high levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Rate of application should be determined by soil testing. Rock phosphate, potassium sulfate (mined, untreated source), sulfate of potash-magnesia (commercially available K-Mag) and a limited number of other rock powders may be used in certified organic programs.

One problem with rock phosphate is that phosphorus is very slowly available. In cold soils, phosphorus deficiencies indicated by purple-tinged leaves may be apparent. Thus, some growers drill a quickly available source of phosphorus, such as bone meal, at planting to insure readily available phosphorus and a healthy crop stand. Other growers simply delay seeding until the weather and the soil warm up.

Growers can apply and incorporate rock mineral fertilizers, manures and bulk composts during field preparation and bedding operations. Growers often make applications in the fall before planting the cover crop. Banding to the side of the row at planting is another option, primarily in combination with organic fertilizers or pelletized and fortified composts.

The late eco-farming adviser Don Schriefer advocated foliar feeding, used in combination with a chlorophyll meter, as a yield-enhancing corn-production practice. To illustrate the importance of photosynthate production in the early life of a corn plant, Schriefer emphasized the following facts relating growth phases of corn to yield potential:

• The number of rows of corn on the cob will be set five weeks after emergence. Rows usually range from 14 to 18.
• Ear length and number of double ears per plant will be established nine weeks after emergence.

While corn is relatively drought tolerant, irrigation increases yields, especially when applied during silking and when ears are filling. If irrigation is not an option and weed management is good, plants might be seeded farther apart to reduce interplant competition.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Sweet Corn: Organic Production. It discusses key aspects of producing organic sweet corn including varieties, soil fertility, crop rotations, weed control, insect pest management, diseases, harvesting, post-harvest handling, marketing and production economics.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What are the different types of animal processors that I should consider?

Answer: There are different levels of processing, and access to them will affect how you can market your animals.

• Federal- or USDA-Inspected Plants—Federal plants can process meat for nationwide sale.

• State-Inspected Plants—Only about half of U.S. states have a State Inspection Program. State-inspected plants can process any meat, but it is stamped for sale only within that state.

• Custom Exempt Plants—A custom plant processes for individual use. The meat must be stamped "not for sale."

• Mobile Processing Unit—A truck- or trailer-mounted facility that is transported to the processing site. Some are state or federally inspected. provides more information in its online resource Mobile Slaughter/Processing Units.

• On-Farm Slaughter (exempt from inspection)—Animals are processed by the owner for individual use (regulations vary by state). To learn more, consult Meat Processing Rules & Regulations, by

The ATTRA publication Working with Your Meat Processor suggests some key ways to work effectively with a meat processor. It covers topics such as building a cooperative relationship, addressing processor problems, understanding meat yields, and more.

A few additional resources for further study are:

Slaughter and Processing Options and Issues for Locally Sourced Meat, USDA Economic Research Service

Beginner's Guide to Local Meat Processing, Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network

Local Meats Processing: Successes and Innovations, by National Good Food Network

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What tomato varieties should I consider in the Southeast?

Answer: Early blight is a prevalent disease in the humid southeast, exacerbated by late spring rains. Many organic growers are moving to high tunnel tomato production and plastic mulch to mitigate the disease and keep rain/soil splash off the foliage. Southern stem blight (Sclerotium rolfsii) is a soil-borne pathogen to be aware of, which can be devastating and is very persistent in the soil.

If you’re going to go with heirloom varieties, I would strongly consider that you look into grafting. Southern growers have a hard time with heirloom tomatoes because of disease susceptibility, splitting, and low productivity. But grafting on to a rootstock like Maxifort can overcome a lot of those issues and also convey resistance to soil-borne diseases like Southern stem blight.
Now for a list of varieties. This is compiled from my experience and the recommendations of an organic grower in North Carolina, Ken Dawson.

Standard red slicers:
• Big Beef – hybrid, large fruit, your standard home garden slicer
• Celebrity – hybrid, dependable, high-yielding
• Parks Whopper – hybrid slicer with good flavor, will hang on longer than most with early blight

More flavorful/colorful hybrids:
• Martha Washington – hybrid with heirloom quality, pink color
• Chef’s Choice – flavorful yellow/orange tomato, vigorous growth
• Margold – hybrid with heirloom appearance, yellow with red streaks
• Manero – hybrid with appearance of Cherokee Purple, new variety but appears to have promise

Heirloom slicers:
• Cherokee Purple – great name recognition, beautiful deep purple color, difficulty with production and cracking
• Mortgage Lifter – large pink heirloom with great flavor

Cherry/plum tomatoes:
• Sungold – delicious, prolific yellow/orange cherry tomato, very sweet, very popular, hybrid
• Granadero – very productive red plum tomato with good flavor, hybrid
• Plum Regal – hybrid red plum tomato with good flavor and production

To learn more, check out the ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production. It addresses practical questions on organic tomato production. It focuses on the specific production challenges, including site selection (soil and climate), variety selection, sources of organic seeds and organic annual transplants, organic grafting, planting and training/staking arrangements, soil fertility and fertilization, crop rotation, and pest (insect, disease, and weed) management. Harvest and yield/productivity are closely related to marketing possibilities. While market conditions are extremely region-specific, this publication also addresses a few general principles on marketing and economics of organic tomatoes.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What nontoxic controls are available for codling moth in apples?

Answer: The codling moth, Cydia pomonella, is present throughout North American apple-growing regions. Prior to the advent of synthetic pesticides, the codling moth larva was the proverbial "worm in the apple." Relatively cold regions may have only one generation of the codling moth, while in the warmest apple-growing areas the codling moth may pass through two to three generations per season. Several organically acceptable controls are available and discussed below.

Among the most effective nontoxic controls for codling moth is mating disruption using pheromones—chemicals naturally produced by insects as a means of communication. During the mating period, female codling moths release pheromones that signal their locations to males. By releasing quantities of these pheromones into the orchard, the grower can confuse and disrupt the moth’s mating cycle.

This approach faces two general problems—difficulties with sustaining an even, long-lasting distribution of pheromones throughout the orchard and complications due to the biology and initial distribution of the codling moth. For instance, dispensers can release pheromones too slowly or too quickly, thus allowing mating to occur. Orchard layout is another consideration. For best results, trees should be evenly spaced and of equal heights since treeless spaces and taller trees interrupt the pheromone spread. Cold weather can cause too little pheromone release and hot weather can cause the pheromone to deplete too fast. Since the pheromones actually attract male moths, fruit damage can be worse if pheromone levels drop low enough to allow mating to occur.

Dispensers should be placed as high in the trees as possible, since mating can occur in the air above the dispensers. For pheromone dispensers to be effective, it is important to use them at the recommended rate per acre.

An aerosol dispenser, nicknamed the "puffer," which uses a timer to periodically spray pheromone into the orchard air, is an effective dispensing method. These puffers reduce the labor requirement of tying pheromone twist-ties on to orchard trees. Some of the puffers are allowable for use by the National Organic Program. For organic growers it will probably not be feasible to achieve adequate suppression using mating disruption alone. Growers in California have significantly improved codling moth control by combining mating disruption with black-light traps. Both male and female codling moths are strongly attracted to black light.

Prior to the development of the mating-disruption system, pheromones were used primarily for monitoring to determine the best timing for spray applications. Degree-day monitoring can also be used to this effect. Since insects are cold blooded, weather monitoring can forecast when an event, such as egg hatch, will occur. This information can be obtained by calculating degree days and can be used to implement control methods, such as pesticide applications or cultural manipulations, so that they are used at the most effective time in the pest’s life cycle.

There are several "windows" in the pest’s development that, if detected, can greatly increase the effectiveness of control measures. Determination of these critical periods is especially important, since codling moth eggs are fairly resistant to pesticide treatments, and once the eggs hatch, the larvae will quickly enter a fruit and be protected from sprays. While Bacillus thuringiensis has shown effectiveness with other moth pests, it is not as effective on codling moth, and additionally can be cost prohibitive. A granulosis virus, originally identified from codling moth, has been shown to be effective for control of early-stage codling moth larvae. This virus was developed for commercial use in Europe and has been used in the United States under the brand name Cyd-X. Degree-day monitoring is necessary to time the application of Cyd-X.

The trichogramma wasp is increasingly used in U.S. orchards as a biological control organism against codling moth. The wasps can be ordered from insectaries, which ship them as pupae inside parasitized grain moth eggs glued to perforated cards (100,000 trichogramma per card). Each card can be broken into 30 squares, allowing for even distribution in orchards and fields. Trichogramma parasitize freshly deposited moth eggs, so release of the adult wasps should be timed to coincide with moth egg-laying. Degree-day monitoring can help determine when egg laying is occurring. Trichogramma feed on insect eggs, nectar, pollen, and honeydew. They live much longer and destroy more codling moths when supplied with nectar. Good nectar and pollen sources in and around the orchard, such as borders or strips of unsprayed alfalfa, sorghum, sunflower, corn, clovers, and wildflowers, will increase Trichogramma parasitism of pest eggs. Beneficial organisms are not sufficient by themselves to affect a commercially acceptable level of control; rather, they play a potentially potent part in an overall long-range ecological management strategy. Best results are usually observed after three to five years of releases, as the population of beneficials grows.

Sanitation and cultural practices can help reduce codling moth populations. Woodpiles, boxes, and bins can be a major source of reinfestation, so these should be kept away from the orchard. If wooden crates or boxes are discovered to contain codling moth pupal cases, they can be disinfested by scorching with a propane torch.

In smaller orchards, codling moth larvae can also be intercepted as they descend the trunk to pupate in bark crevices, soil, and certain weed stems. Wrap the trunks with corrugated cardboard, which will provide an attractive artificial pupation site. In areas with only one generation of codling moth, remove and burn the cardboard at the end of the season. If there are two or more generations, the cardboard should be removed and destroyed about a month after the first larvae moved down to pupate. To determine the timing of this larval movement, use the degree-day method described above or employ a trap of a 6-inch-wide burlap strip painted with Tanglefoot and wrapped around the trunk just above the cardboard wraps.

To learn much more, consult the ATTRA publication Apples: Organic Production. This publication provides information on organic apple production from recent research and producer experience. Many aspects of apple production are the same whether the grower uses low-spray, organic, or conventional management. Accordingly, this publication focuses on the aspects that differ from nonorganic practices—primarily pest and disease control, marketing, and economics. This publication introduces the major apple insect pests and diseases and the most effective organic management methods. It also includes farmer profiles of working orchards and a section dealing with economic and marketing considerations. There is an extensive list of resources for information and supplies and an appendix on disease-resistant apple varieties.

Note: The mention of specific product brand names is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What are the basic steps in starting a community orchard?

Answer: The American Community Garden Association ( has offered a 10-step outline for starting a community orchard. Retaining the 10 major headings, the following is an expansion of that outline:

1. The first step is to develop a plan, and the first order of business regarding the plan should be to determine the goals of the orchard, including whom the orchard will serve. In England, where the community orchard movement started, the first goal was saving local varieties in extant older orchards, which were threatened by age but even more by urban development. Other goals might include fruit production for the orchard workers as well as the general public, "private" fruit production on rented plots, fruit production for food banks and the needy, beautification (edible landscaping), and education for children, as well as adults, interested in learning how to grow fruit.

Once a general plan is decided upon, a leadership team should be named to chair the committees necessary to oversee the general plan–committees like fundraising, volunteer recruitment, site selection, legal, and, of course, planning.

The leadership team will establish priorities and among those should be choosing a name and logo for the orchard.

2. The second step is finding a site. In England, the sites are likely to be older orchards already established in the community on private land but threatened in some way and in need of preservation. In the United States, this is not usually the case, and a community orchard group will most likely be looking at public land to find a suitable site. However, depending on the resolve and resources of the group, it is possible to consider finding the best site regardless of whether it’s public or private, and purchasing or leasing the site if it’s on private land. Still, most groups will be looking at public land like parks, a botanical garden, or school grounds, all of which have the built-in advantage of having some public traffic (assuming that visibility is among the goals of the group). Sites that already have community gardens are natural candidates. The site search need not be limited, though, to schools and parks as there is often land in public ownership (city, county, state, federal) that has not been purposed and may not be readily recognizable as public. Check with local officials.

A good orchard site is sunny with well-drained soil and access to water. It should not be in a frost pocket (an area where cold air can settle), and south-facing slopes should be avoided because they tend to induce fruit trees to bloom too early, thus making their blossoms subject to frost damage.

Determine the history of a site to ascertain that there is little to no risk of contaminated soil from previous use (e.g., industrial site, waste dump).

3. Get a contract/lease. Most fruit trees don’t start bearing until they are three to four years old. Moreover, because initial investment in plants, fertilizer, and land preparation can be considerably more for an orchard than for a garden, a long-term agreement with the owner (be it public or private) is a necessity.

At this point, legal assistance would be advised. If the government entity you are working with doesn’t provide legal services, look for a civicminded lawyer willing to do pro bono work for your cause.

4. Get money and materials. In large part to make things easy for the people who want to give your group charitable donations of money and materials, consider forming a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

Don’t limit your funding searches to just local sources; depending on your goals and focus, there are national groups that might be interested in donating.

Other focus areas might suggest appropriate donors. For instance, are you focusing on production for food pantries or other needy groups? Does your orchard have a strong educational component? Is historical preservation a main goal? Your goals should suggest to you individuals and groups who would be happy to donate to your community orchard. And don’t forget gardening groups, farm supply stores, landscapers, and nurseries; they are a very likely source of donated tools and plants.
A website or at least a Facebook site is practically mandatory today for any group doing public fundraising. A Facebook site with names and photos provides transparency to reassure potential donors that you are a legitimate and worthy organization. Likewise, media attention provides both promotion and legitimacy. Arrange to be interviewed by local news media and make sure they know about any events (e.g., groundbreaking, planting, a major donation, notice of a workshop at the orchard) that are coming up. The more familiar your name becomes, the easier it is to solicit donations.

5. Find helpers. Identify sources of volunteers, including master gardeners, garden club members, nursery operators, and Cooperative Extension personnel. Remember, perennial fruit culture is more complicated than regular gardening, so it would be advantageous to find experienced fruit growers. Public schools, 4-H, and FFA (Future Farmers of America) organizations should be notified. High school and college horticulture programs are another good place to look.

6. Design the orchard. In designing the orchard, the first consideration should be the project goals from Step 1. For example, if a primary goal is production for food banks, heirloom varieties or exotic species should give way to varieties proven to produce abundantly in your area.

Another primary consideration is choosing plants that do well in your climate and soil without the intervention of pesticides. First, plants have to be chosen that will actually survive the climate and soil types to which they will be exposed. After that, it is practically a given that any orchard open to the public will have to be managed without synthetic pesticides. It matters little what the experts say in this regard; the simple truth is that parents will not tolerate a situation in which they feel, rightly or wrongly, that their children may be exposed to the risks of pesticides.

Consequently, the most disease-resistant, pest-tolerant, climatically adapted plants must be chosen from the start for the pest/disease/climate complex of your region. It will do little good to plant a Bartlett pear in the eastern half of the United States only to have it destroyed by the ravages of fi re blight. Likewise, a muscadine grape with great disease resistance, but not cold hardy past USDA Climate Zone 7, will simply not survive the cold winters of New England.

Another important choice involves the size and scale of the orchard. This is tricky, of course, but the leadership team must try to gauge the level of support that will be necessary and available over the years. If there is any question about such support, remember it is best to start small and excel than to start big and fail. Successes will build community interest and support. Failures will imply that your group doesn’t know what it’s doing. It’s harder to correct mistakes in perennial plantings than in annual gardens; therefore, be humble, ask questions, and think small initially.

The physical characteristics of the site must be considered, and foremost among these for the purposes of fruit growing are shade and drainage (both air and water). Most, but not all, fruit plants will do best in full sun. This relates primarily to fruit bud initiation by the plants, but it also relates to disease management, as quick drying of plant surfaces inhibits growth and infection of many plant-pathogenic fungi and bacteria. But there are fruit trees, like pawpaws, that will thrive in the shade, though they will bear more fruit in full sun. Also, there are fruit species “out of their element,” like raspberries growing in the South, which will actually benefit from a half-day’s shade, especially if that shade moderates the southern and/or western exposures. Also, when laying out the orchard, consider the relative shadow cast from taller trees: in most cases the tallest trees should be planted on the northern border of the site because that will produce the least shade on the orchard site as a whole. Moving from North to South, the tallest trees come first, then plant the medium-height shrubs, next the berry bushes, and finally the ground-huggers (strawberries, lingonberries).

Regarding water and air drainage, as already discussed in Step 2, the whole site should have good air and water drainage, but fruit plant species exhibit varying tolerances to “wet feet.” Cherries, for instance, are notoriously intolerant of heavy or poorly drained soils. Pears and blackberries, on the other hand, are probably the most tolerant of wet conditions. If plants intolerant of wet soil need to be planted where drainage is questionable, consider raising the individual plant site by berming the soil.
Finally, consider adequate walkways, access for mowers, whether fencing is desirable, possible need for a storage shed, and the aesthetics of the whole planting, including the entrance with signage. You’ll probably want an attractive sign with the orchard group’s logo, but it might also be advantageous to have educational signage, as well as posted rules.
7. Prepare and plant the orchard. A good first step on-site is to post a sign to let people know that a community orchard will be established here. The sign could also function to solicit more volunteers.

Ideally, ground preparation starts well ahead of actual planting and includes activities such as performing a soil test, increasing organic matter (turning under a cover crop or incorporating compost or manure), dealing with existing vegetation (noxious weeds like bermudagrass can be serious, long-term problems, especially in berry plantings); adjusting soil pH with lime or sulfur; building trellises for grapes, raspberries, and espaliered fruit trees; and ditching and/or berming to deal with drainage. These types of things are difficult to do after planting long-lived trees and bushes, so try to anticipate future needs and obstacles.

Planting day should be a fun event. Make it so. It’s a chance to get some publicity, so notify the press ahead of time and post announcements on social media sites.

Make sure that the planters understand the basic rules of planting; you’ll probably want to have teams led by people with some expertise. You could also use this opportunity to have your first workshop, “How to plant fruit trees and berry plants correctly.” Make certain at the end of this day that plants are watered in and that someone is in charge of watering during the crucial establishment year.

8. Involve youth. Through public school biology classes, 4-H clubs, youth centers, church groups, and the like, a community orchard can engage kids. Youth will serve as positive ambassadors for the project because they’re going to tell others, including their parents. Making sure the neighborhood’s children are involved is just the right thing to do, but it can also help keep down vandalism.

9. Manage the orchard. As for what must get done for the sake of the plants, managing a community orchard is much the same as managing any orchard. The primary difference is managing who does the work. Volunteers will come and go, but the management of the orchard must have continuity.

10. Reassess the project. Any long-term project should undergo periodic reassessments. Build such reassessments into the initial charter.

You can learn much more on this topic in the ATTRA publication Community Orchards. This publication introduces community orchards and discusses the history of the community orchard movement and the motivations behind producing fruit in a community orchard. It offers advice on choosing fruit trees and plants most likely to provide successful harvests, including apples, pears, grapes, brambles, and other, unusual fruits. A profile of a community orchard program and a list of further resources are also included.

Send feedback » Permalink



Question of the Week Archives