STOCKSCH 320 – Organic Vegetable Production

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September 5 – December 12, 2017

Instructor: Renee Ciulla Bio        Contact:

Course Overview and Objectives

reneepicBy the end of this 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. Furthermore, 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.

Course Structure

At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a weekly 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 midnight on the Thursday of that module’s week. To receive full Discussion credit for the week, students are also required to comment on at least on peer’s post by Sunday at midnight. Required Readings are listed with weekly required Homework questions which are due at midnight 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

Topic One
The Historical and Current Context of “Organic”
What is organic? In comparison, what’s conventional production?
Examples of key players
Overview/differences of agroecology principles, biodynamic agriculture and permaculture
Organic certification:
USDA National Organic Program (outlines regulation for certification):
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Organic Production Survey

Topic Two
Organic Vegetable Production Basics
Vegetable Families:
Soil Organic Matter (SOM)
Plant Nutrient Functions and Deficiency Symptoms
Crop rotation
Cover Crops
Companion planting
No-till and reduced tillage

Topic Three
Cultural Practices for Vegetables
Choosing seed, heirlooms vs. hybrid
Organically produced seed
Weed Seeds Commonly Found in Vegetable Crops
Organic Seed Treatments and Coatings
Fundamentals of Soil Fertility
Guidelines for Organic Fertility Management
Understanding Soils, Soil Tests and Soil Problems
Crop Production Budgets

Topic Four
Weed Control
Organic Weed Management
Weed Ecology
Weed Control Methods
Common Weeds of the Northeastern USA
Wildlife Damage Management (Deer, Woodchucks, etc)

Topic Five
Pest & Disease Control
Plant Pathology Introduction
Integrated Pest Management (Definition and techniques)
Insect Pest Management for Organic Crops
Vegetable management options for insects and diseases
Natural Enemies in Organic Farming Systems

Topic Six
Greenhouse production and season extension:
Overview of season extension principles and techniques
Excellent overview of season extension topics from SARE
Materials of a High Tunnel
Video: overview of tunnel production (types of tunnels, common problems, disease management and how to construct a low-cost tunnel around 55min mark)
Sustainable Season Extension: Considerations for Design
USDA NRCS Greenhouse funding
Greenhouse Construction
Season extension resources
Vegetable transplant production
Growing Media for Greenhouse Production
Sustainable Commercial Greenhouse Production

Topic Seven

Growing Legumes (Beans, Broad Beans, Peas)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control
Effects of plant density on intercropped wheat and field beans in an organic farming system:

Growing Brassicas (Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control
Harnessing aphid alarm pheromone to rid broccoli heads of aphids
Effect of Vermicompost on Productivity of Turnips (and potatoes and spinach)
Effect of Fertilizers (organic and inorganic) on Growth, Yield, Yield Components, Quality and Certain Nutrient Contents in Broccoli
Phytoremediation from brassica species

Growing Curcurbits (Cucumber, Pumpkin, Squash)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control
Excellent overview of growing organic pickling cucumbers and butternut squash
Growth and Yields of Winter Squash with Organic and Living Mulches (also bell peppers in research, but focus on squash results):
Seed saving and vegetable variety trials:

Topic Eight

Growing Lettuce
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control
Role of Syrphid Larvae and Other Predators in Suppressing Aphid Infestations in Organic Lettuce on California’s Central Coast
Economic Analysis of Organic Greenhouse Lettuce Production in Turkey
Influences of Organic Fertilization, High Tunnel Environment, and Postharvest Storage on Phenolic Compounds in Lettuce

Growing Corn
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control
New Mexico State University corn researcher developing improved varieties for organic farmers
Corn Earworm Control (make sure to check out the Zea-later applicator, developed at UMass!)
Participatory Plant Breeding to Improve Sweet Corn for Organic Farmers

Carrot family – Apiaceae (Carrot, Celery, Parsley)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control
The Consistently Superior Quality of Carrots from one organic farm in Austria Compared with Conventional Farms (2011)
Quality of organic and conventional carrots from Jõgeva Plant Breeding Institute, Estonia
Allelopathic Potential of Celery Residues on Lettuce
Growth, Water Relations, and Ion Content of Field-grown Celery under Saline Irrigation

Beetroot family – Chenopodiaceae (Swiss chard, beets, spinach)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control
Sugar Beet Research (Publication of the American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists)
Sweet and Sour: A Scientific and Legal Look at Herbicide-Tolerant Sugar Beet

Topic Nine

Onion family – Alliaceae (Garlic, onions, leeks and shallots)

Growing Onions
Towards Integrated Pest Management of Thrips Tabaci in Onions:
Can conventional breeding programs provide onion varieties that are suitable for organic farming in the Netherlands?
Growing Garlic
Evaluating Yield Quantity and Quality of Garlic as Affected by Different Farming Systems and Garlic Clones Growing Leeks
Growing Shallots

Solanaceae Family (Potatoes, Eggplant, Peppers and Tomatoes)

Growing Potatoes:
Effects of strip intercropping of potatoes with non-hosts on late blight severity and tuber yield in organic production (research plots in Germany)
Efficacy of biological insecticides to control the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotasara decemlineata) in organic farming
Colorado Potato Beetle Management on Potatoes: Current Challenges and Future Prospects
Flea Beetle Pest Management for Organic Potatoes
Growing Peppers:
Weed Control Efficacy of Organic Mulches in Two Organically Managed Bell Pepper Production Systems
Growing Eggplant:
Effect of organic and inorganic sources of fertilizer on growth, yield and fruit quality of eggplant
Field Production of Tomatoes:
Organic Greenhouse Production of Tomatoes:
Management Diseases of Organic Tomatoes in Greenhouses and High Tunnels:
Management of non-pathogenic fruit disorders of tomato:
Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production:

Growing Asparagus
Irrigation and living mulches for improving the longevity of asparagus plantings
Organic Asparagus Production as a Case Study for Implementation of the National Strategies for Organic Agriculture in Thailand
Hurricane Flats Farm in South Royalton, VT (well-known asparagus farmer)

Topic Ten


Water Footprint Network
Review of meanings of transpiration and evaporation in the water cycle
Estimating soil moisture
Overview of flood, drip and spray irrigation methods
Details for center-pivot spray irrigation system

General Irrigation Guidelines, Trickle or Drip Irrigation and Running the System
Understanding Irrigation Management Factors (Type of Soil, Water-Holding Capacity, Evapotranspiration, Rooting Depth, Irrigation, Tools to Evaluate Soil Moisture)
Overview of Furrow Irrigation
Designing a Basic PVC Home Garden Drip Irrigation System
Drip-irrigation systems for small conventional and organic vegetable farms

USDA Irrigation & Drainage: National Research Plan to Meet Competing Demands and Protect the Environment
An Economic Comparison of Subsurface Drip and Center Pivot Sprinkler Irrigation Systems
Evaluation of a Drip vs. Furrow Irrigated Cotton Production System
Using rainwater for irrigation in a high tunnel
Irrigation Energy

Topic Eleven

Harvest & Post-Harvest

Quality in relation to marketability of vegetables
Influence of Pre-harvest Factors on Post-harvest Quality
Post-harvest Handling For Organic Crops
Respiration and Ethylene and their Relationship to Post-harvest Handling
Approved Chemicals for Use in Organic Post-harvest Systems
Pre-cooling and Storage Facilities
Respiratory Metabolism
Specialty Crops for Cold Climates

Marketing Vegetables

USDA Economic Research Service Organic Sales and Market Overview
Conducting Market Research Using Primary Data
Organic Price Report (online tool to assist farmers with pricing-choose a market and category and compare different state’s prices)
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) Price Report
Plan for Marketing Your Organic Products
Find Buyers, Sell Online, Source and Buy Product
Marketing in Organic Production
Direct Marketing with Value-Added Products
Overview of Options for Marketing Produce (CSA, farmers markets, wholesale, restaurants, internet sales, etc).
The Farm to School Network
Farm-To-Cafeteria Connections

Topic Twelve

For this week, I would like you to study profiles of experienced vegetable growers. Some of them might share their crop budgets as well as solutions for pest, disease and weed issues and marketing techniques.
Please peruse the websites provided OR research other diversified vegetable farms throughout the USA and/or world. Most of you have already decided on your research topic and have farms in mind to ask research-related questions. Feel free to use farms of your own choice as well!
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.

Topic 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 15-credit Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program.   If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here.  For more information, contact Dr. John M. Gerber at;

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