We’re Certified!

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!

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The April-May Recap

As further explanation for the lack of information on our the market, we could just say that we have been really busy with school and work which in actuality is true. The past month has been very productive and beneficial in our project. So here’s the recap:

Market Garden

Cool Season plants took off finally in April. We used a row cover to keep pests off and this tended to work for our Kale, Swiss Chard, and Cabbage without having to spray too much (though we ran into some problems with Aphids and had to take a Neem Oil Mix to them). Fertilizing was done on transplants and our direct seeded produce in every other week shifts using Schaffer’s Fisheries Liquid Fish. The interns, much to their enjoyment, had fun mixing dead fish together in a water solution. While it stinks, it is an effective method that has helped us out greatly. Our potatoes finally took off as well. We were worried that we might have put them in too early or the location might have so much compaction that the potato plant might struggle to break the ground but after some periods of warmer weather and finger-crossing on our part, the potatoes broke through and are standing close to a foot tall. Now we are monitoring them weekly to make sure the pests don’t get them.

As stated before, our market garden is in a 4 quad system and we rotated into the next one as soon as it became warm enough. Rows of corn and beans were planted mid-april. We planted 8 rows of sweet corn that should give us all we need and a variety of beans (bush, pole, soup, etc) were planted near each other. Being in the south, we also had to plant okra, putting out 4 rows of Clemson Spineless. After much talk, the best approach for quad 3 and 4 was to lay down black plastic. What we had learned from the start of the season by strip tilling, we had more problems with the cover crop sustaining and with weed control. By laying down black plastic mulch, it meant we could just plant in a certain area. The mulch keeps in moisture, raises the soil temperature, and allows us to control the weeds-since they will just be around the plant. So one friday the guys at the farm attached a roll of plastic mulch and we rolled them down the rows. The next week we planted all of our squash, melons, tomatoes, zucs, cucs, and peppers. The layout of them also means that quad 4 has much room to expand its vines (it is hard to describe how this looks, so just go with me). We are caught up with our planting, and just waiting to put out the second succession of some crops.

Field Tour

The second field tour of the unit was held last month. During this time, over 200 people came out to look at our farm and listen to what are current research is. Topics ranged from no-tillage broccoli, high tunnel production, the market garden, small fruit production, marketing, cover crops and much more. We always enjoy this day because it allows people to further engage in learning and education, and to connect the research we do with the general public. Thanks to all those who came out to support  us and we look forward to next year’s!

Market Day

As it has been known, the market garden has been leading up to the Harvest Market. After months of planning and production, we finally had our grand opening May 14 in the  UT Gardens’ Friendship Plaza. Our first day we had strawberries, lettuce, spicy lettuce mix (it has a kick like Wasabi), green onions, kale, swiss chard, china choy, kohlirabi, and. We were very pleased with the turn out and the receptive group that joined us in making the market successful. It meant  a lot to all of us who had worked so hard on this project to finally see the end result. Our 2nd market saw the same result and we will continue to be at the UT Gardens 2-4 every Friday until school starts back.

So, as you have read, these last couple weeks have been busy but we know that the weeks to come will be even busier as more crops come in and need maintenance and harvesting.