Organic Vegetable Production
September 8 – December 11, 2015
Description of course
By the end of this 15-week course, students will understand that successful organic vegetable production relies on more than producing vegetables; it requires managing money, people, and natural resources effectively. The lessons and reading material provide an overview of cultural practices for vegetables, pest, disease, and weed control, greenhouse production and construction, irrigation practices, as well as harvesting and marketing techniques.
Three weeks are devoted to researching specifics related to growing common vegetables. At the end of the course, students reach out to farms of their choice to learn first-hand about some of the issues faced and possible solutions.
The final project is a detailed research assignment based on one of the topics reviewed during the semester (students can choose from a list of options). Throughout the semester students should be thinking about their personal interest within the organic vegetable field and pursue this topic during the final two weeks.
At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a list of all the work to be completed during the week of class. There will be Discussion Questions which students will post responses to in the “discussion forum” section of Blackboard. These responses are due by 11:59pm on the Thursday of that module’s week. Required Readings are listed with weekly required Homework questions which are due 11:59pm on Sunday of each week. The Final Research Project will be chosen from a list of options and culminate in an in-depth paper. Exceptions for research topics not on the list can be made with the instructor’s permission.
- Class Participation: 25%
- Discussion Assignments: 25%
- Homework Assignments: 25%
- Final Project: 25%
Outline of Content
Week One – The Historical and Current Context of “Organic”
- What is organic? In comparison, what’s conventional production?
- Timeline of organic agriculture development:
- Current key players
- Overview of agroecology principles, biodynamic agriculture and permaculture
- Organic certification
Week Two – Organic Vegetable Production Basics
- Vegetable Families
- Crop rotation
- Cover Crops
- Companion planting
Week Three – Cultural Practices for Vegetables
- Choosing seed, heirlooms vs. hybrid, storing seed, sowing seed
- Seed and seed production in organic farming systems
- Cultivation techniques and tools
- Understanding Soils, Soil Tests and Soil Problems
- Guidelines for Organic Fertilization
- Crop Scheduling & Estimating Vegetable Yields
Week Four – Weed Control
- Weed management (hand weeding, mechanical and biological weed control methods)
- Integrated Pest Management (Non-chemical pest control)
- Plant Pathology introduction
- Insect Disease management
- Weed managemen
- Wildlife Damage Management
Week Five – Pest & Disease Control
- Review of common diseases, pests and weeds
- Weed Identification Guide
- Weed changes from conventional tillage to no-till
Week Six – Greenhouse production, vegetable plant production and season extension
- Overview of season extension principles and techniques
- Components of a greenhouse system (materials)
- Video: overview of tunnel production and how to construct
- Sustainable Season Extension: Considerations for Design:
- Ledgewood Greenhouses
- Types of greenhouses and greenhouse designs
- Greenhouse funding
- Cold Frames (Eliot Coleman): http://www.fourseasonfarm.com
- Season extension sources
Week Seven – Vegetable transplant production
- Selecting Fertility & Media Sources for Organic Greenhouse Vegetables
Week Eight – Growing Legumes (Beans, Broad Beans, Peas)
- Growing Brassicas (Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Pak Choi, Broccoli, Kale, Turnip
Week Nine – Growing Lettuce, Onions, & Root Crops (Carrots, Radish, Parsnip, Beets)
- Growing Curcurbits (Cucumber, Pumpkin, Squash)
Week Ten – Irrigation
- The objective of irrigation
- Flood, Sprinkler and Trickle irrigation
- Understanding soil moisture
- Transpiration and Wilting Point
- When to irrigate (timing)
- Detecting water deficiency or excess
- Improving Drainage
- Managing erosion
- Maintaining Drip Irrigation for Vegetables
- Overview of Key Components
A. Harvest & Post-Harvest
- Introduction to harvesting & storing
- Cooling harvested produce
- Harvest and post-harvest handling
B. Marketing Vegetables
- Standards for cost efficiency, quality and quantity
- Options for Marketing Produce (CSAs, farmers markets, wholesale, restaurants)
- Specialty Crops for Cold Climates
- Market Research
- Marketing in Organic Production
Study profiles of experienced vegetable growers (crop budgets as well as solutions for pest, disease and weed issues and marketing techniques). Peruse the websites provided OR research other diversified vegetable farms throughout the USA and/or world. Email or call them with specific questions (approximately 10-15) that you can submit along with their answers. This week you can clarify your questions while speaking with farmers as well as beginning to research your topic deeper.
Week Thirteen – Final Project
Please choose a topic from the following list and complete an 8-10 page research paper (double-spaced, font-size 12 point) with at least 15 sources (not all web-based but also several academic, peer-reviewed articles). Please submit a .doc file type named lastname_finalassignment.
These are only ideas and all topics must be approved by instructor.
1. Outline the major weeds faced by vegetable farmers in a particular region and what steps can be taken to organically manage them (or focus on one or two and go very in-depth).
2. Describe the most common diseases faced by organic vegetable farmers in a particular region and what steps can be taken to manage them following organic principles.
3. Research various pests faced by farmers and what steps can be taken to biologically control them.
4. Choose one of the issues presented to you by a farmer you spoke with or that you know, and research possible solutions (storage, CSA inefficiency, extreme dry or humid conditions, lack of consumer education, etc).
5. Season extension! Which vegetables are best for which regions and what can we do to increase the growing efficiency of providing local vegetables year-round despite cold winter temperatures?
This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate Program. A UMass Certificate may be earned by the successful completion of 15 credits of approved courses in this series. For information, contact Dr. John M. Gerber at; firstname.lastname@example.org. Or learn about other online courses offered as part of the Sustainable Food and Farming certificate and B.S. degree program.