We have good reason to celebrate! As of Monday, June 7, 2010, 9.8 acres of the Organic Crops Unit completed the transitional period to become certified organic. The UT Harvest Market is included in this acreage, and we are pleased to offer our organic produce at our student-run market in the Friendship Plaza of the UT gardens every Friday, from 2-4 pm (this Friday, June 11 from 3-5 pm).
We have worked hard and learned much during our transitional period, and we know we still have much to learn!
Being organic means trying to reach an equilibrium with nature by building our soils, growing the healthiest plants possible, and reducing insect and disease pressure through natural means. This is a dynamic process, and always presents us with new challenges. Our undergraduate assistants, graduate students, interns, and everyone who works or has worked at the OCU has has played a part in helping us reach certification.
How have we achieved this?
We build the soils by planting cover crops in the fall and spring, and incorporate these “green manures” into the soil to provide nutrients for our transplants. We side-dress our veggies with compost and fish emulsion and use straw mulch t0 to keep our soil covered. We are trying to find ways to reduce tillage and manage our weeds selectively by mowing, hoeing and hand-pulling. This keeps us in shape!
We use certified organic seed and OMRI approved inputs that are pre-approved and on our organic systems plan. We try to use off-farm inputs sparingly, but sometimes need to use neem oil, pyrethrum, spinosad and Bt to help manage our pests. We selectively cull or prune out diseased plants and use row covers. We plant many different crops, and rotate fields to reduce pest pressure. We plant flowers for the pollinators, beneficial insects and to pick for bouquets for the market garden. With all the different colors, heights and textures, our diverse garden is attractive.
I’ve learned one of the virtues necessary for successful organic gardening is patience. It can take time for natural processes to occur; for soil organic matter to build, for weeds and insect populations to stably decline, for organic matter to compost. If you are a patient observer, you’ll see that nothing happens overnight. This is my 3rd summer here, and each year our team grows a little more, we do a little more research and our garden gets a little bigger. It is a natural progression, and little by little we reach our goals. By this time next year, we will complete the transition for 3.7 more acres!