Transplanting Time?

This year one of the goals here on the farm (UT organic farm) is to increase yields – especially for our CSA program. High yield is the ultimate goal for all farmers whether in organic or conventional systems. One way to increase yields and get a head start on the growing season is TRANSPLANTING. Studies have shown that transplanting eliminates unhealthy seedlings from crop/field production. Crops produced from transplant often lead to early yields, uniformity in growth sizes, and better weed control than direct seeding. There is a definite advantage in growing one’s own transplant as to purchasing. Purchasing cutback on greenhouse fuel and labor costs. Well, what if you do not have a greenhouse and instead of purchasing, you intend to produce your own transplants. The following is a “do it yourself” list for transplant production in organic farming/gardening:

1. Set your budget
2. Select crop varieties for growing season
3. Purchase certified organic seeds
4. Design a pre-test for seed germination (place a number of seeds
on a damped paper towel and place in a cool area)
5. Select the proper potting mix, NOT soil – certified organic
peat or other soil-less mixes (this allows for aeration,
germination, water holding capacity, etc)
6. Container for seedlings – seedling flats
7. Watering seeds demands high attention (avoid over and
under watering seeds)
8. Know the transplant age, growth stage, and possibly ideal
growth temperature of your crop selections (e.g. tomatoes:
transplant age 5-7wks, at growth stage ready to transplant,
must have buds but, no flowers, and temperature for day 75
degrees and night 65 degrees)
9. Keep potted seedlings in controlled environment at proper
temperatures during the days and nights

Happy Seedlings Awaiting TransplantTransplanting comes with so many advantages that benefits the farmer and the crops such as: enhanced uniformity for better growth, weather adaptation, reduce input costs compared to direct-seedling, decrease weeds, fast turnaround time, minimize labor cost (highly important), and lastly, less seeds usage – which reduce cost on seeds.


Life in the dead of Winter

I still can’t believe the single digit temperatures we received earlier this week. Although it would seem that all plants would be dead or dormant this time of year, there are some plants that continue to grow, slowly. While walking around the Market Garden today, I removed some of the straw mulch covering the garlic.  Since garlic is a biennial, you must plant the individual bulbs in the fall in order to harvest in early summer. We planted our garlic in mid-November and I was worried we were too late. Ideally, I would have planted the garlic bulbs in mid-October but as most of you know, plans constantly change when gardening.  Fortunately, garlic shoots were poking out of the soil! I was relieved and excited.


As temperatures begin to warm in late February and early March, we will begin to remove the mulch to allow the garlic shoots to take in all the available sunlight. This time of year can feel like an eternity as you prepare for spring planting, but you must wait for the cold blanket of winter to be removed. This is also a great time to attend state and/or regional conferences, and to do as much crop research as possible. Bulk up on all the information you can handle to prepare yourself for another growing season.



Farm update!

Hey guys! It’s been a while huh? Okay about 3 months but who’s counting?


In the past week, we’ve had a lot going on.  Some 4-H conference kids (a Department of Agriculture sponsored youth academic conference) came visit us to learn about the farm, do a weed and insect scavenger hunt, and make seed bombs.  We found two black racer snakes and a black widow the same day (one of which was spotted to the right of Manny directly after the picture above was taken).  We were having a real problem with weeds in our tomato and pepper patch, so we laid down a thick straw cover between the rows and tucked in the plants to keep out the competition (tomatoes below, before the new straw).  Other than that, we did some weeding and checking for insects on our cucurbits, beans, and potatoes, and fertilized some plants that needed an extra boost.


We also have a few new-ish workers on the farm who are past due on their introductions: Rebecca helps part-time at the farm juggling also working on a Masters in Food Science, managing her own garden, sheep, chickens, and four year old! Dara  is majoring in Microbiology and has just completed her sophomore year. She enjoys pumpkin diving as a hobby! Justin is an English major at Carson Newman and avid runner and marathoner.  Nora is returning to the farm (one of the first interns in the program) after working a few years at a wildlife conservation park in Knoxville.

Now, the good stuff.  Here are some recipes for some of our vegetables and herbs that we are harvesting and putting in our CSA boxes this week:

Bulgur and Radish Salad

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 ½ cups bulgur
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 cup parsley leaves
  • 6 large red radishes
  • 2 small ripe tomatoes
  • 1 small cucumber

In a 3-quart saucepan, boil the water over high heat.  Remove from heat and stir on the bulgur, oil, lime  juice, salt, and pepper.  Set aside to rehydrate bulgur and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, chop parsley and cut radishes into thin, small strips.  Slice tomatoes and cucumber.  Stir the parsley and radishes into bulgur mixture and spoon onto the center of a serving plate.  Surround with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and serve.  Makes 4-6 servings.


Spicy Spaghetti Sauce

  • 4 lbs chopped and peeled tomatoes (Roma if possible)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh oregano
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 sprigs chopped parsley
  • 1-2 chopped dried peppers
  • 1 lb Cooked ground beef or 1 lb cooked spicy Italian sausage (optional)

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large iron skillet.  Add onion, basil, garlic and salt and sauté until onion is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato, parsley, oregano, peppers, and sugar and heat to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours (a long time but worth it!), stirring often until the sauce has thickened.  Add beef or sausage and serve over cooked spaghetti and with Parmesan cheese.  Makes 6 servings.

Recipes from Mary at the Granola booth at the Farmer’s Market and “From Asparagus to Zucchini-A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce”

We’ll be back to give you some more updates next week and hopefully catch you up on our progress from the last 3 months but until then come visit us at the market on Wednesday, eat well, and enjoy!

Beneficial Body Invaders

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Organic farmers have to contend with many insect pests without the use of synthetic pesticides. Instead, organic farmers employ the “many little hammers” approach using crop rotation to break life cycles, mulches and row covers to discourage pests, and manual removal from crops. One very effective method of insect control is the promotion of beneficial insects on the farm. Providing habitat for beneficial insects such as beetle banks and perennial planting strips for pollinators and insects that prey on other insects which are harmful to the crops they are growing are ways to encourage beneficial insects on the farm.

At the UT Organic Farm we have lots of small white cabbage butterflies (Pieris rapae) which lay their eggs on the leaves of many of our crops including kale and kohlrabi. A couple of weeks ago we discovered evidence of a natural enemy using cabbage butterfly larvae as its host. That natural enemy is a parasitic wasp known as cotesia (Apanteles glomeratus).  This species deposits eggs in young caterpillars, which grows to maturity with the developing larvae inside. Just before it is ready to pupate, the wasp larvae eat through the caterpillar and continue to develop beneath the caterpillar who is left paralyzed. The slideshow pictures above show the wasp larvae after they have emerged from the caterpillar.

We hope that cotesia gets the upper hand and helps us to control the cabbage butterfly population at the farm. We are also in the beginning stages of planting a perennial strip to encourage more beneficials to the farm. So far we have planted echinacea, yarrow, and a wildflower mix in our strip. I found an amazing video from National Geographic that shows wasp larvae developing and emerging from its host. Check it out:

First market this Wednesday!

The garden fills up fast and it’s looking great. We’re elated to have such good looking stuff to bring to market. Our leafy greens like the lettuce, kale, and chard have been enjoying the mild temperatures as of late and are not only beautiful, but especially tasty. We will also have broccoli, beets, and plenty of kohlrabi ready along with green onions.

We’ve been busy making sure we have good looking stuff to bring to market all season, and getting plants in the ground is our main concern at this point. We’ve put in several hundred tomato and pepper plants, and are currently planting melons, cucumbers, and beans. Our potato plants are finally starting to creep up after taking their sweet time since being planted a month ago, but it looks like we’ll get a good crop.

In order to speed up the transplanting of peppers and eggplant, our team decided to use the water wheel. Mary and Jordan can be seen below plugging freshly dug holes with our transplants. The water wheel is pulled behind the tractor, poking holes with big spikes and filling them with water as it roles along. Not the fanciest machine, but it was really helpful and fairly easy to operate



So the season is off to a good start. Everyone is done with exams now so we’re putting in long days at the farm. The new crew of interns are doing an excellent job staying on top of things. We’ve been spreading a heavy layer of straw around plants and between rows to prevent  weed germination. Tomatoes are stakes and ready to be trellised. The garden is well under way to being one of our best! We’re really excited to see all of you at market on Wednesday!





Spring is Underway

Things at the farm are underway. This is the student garden’s third year and one would hope we have some idea of what we’re doing by now. March and April are the  exciting part of the season for me, when enthusiasm for transplanting and comfortable temperature make for quick work. It’s nice to finally be working outside again. The spring field has been tilled and the cover crop that had occupied the land over winter is breaking down and releasing its beautiful nutrients all up in our soil. The green matter will be given some time to decay and root clods to break down before intensive planting begins. Some things are in the ground already.

Green onions and beets have been planted and lettuce is beginning to go in the ground. These crops will be covered with row cover to prevent cold damage as the weather is still a bit unpredictable at the time. Even as temperatures increase over the course of the summer, row cover will be left over many of our spring vegetables as they are effective deterrents against pests. But for now, insects and weeds are not issues and our focus will be on getting crops in the ground. The interns were out at the farm this afternoon to get planting kohlrabi and kale. It’s a good group of people to work the fields with.

Anyway, not much to say now. Plenty of more work to do and more updates to come.