Cover crops are not grown for sale – they are grown to care for and improve soil fertility. Growing a leguminous cover crop helps fix more nitrogen in the soil, but all cover crops increase humic matter, decrease soil erosion in the off-farming months and help break up compacted soils. Common cover crops include rye, dwarf, sweet, red or white clover, Austrian pea, vetch, winter wheat, etc.
A cover crop that is quick to grow, mature, and kill, and one easily decomposes, allowing for a fast shot of nutrients to garden soil. Buckwheat is the most commonly used cover crop that is known as a green manure.
Legume plants are notable for their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, thanks to a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with bacteria (rhizobia) found in root nodules of these plants. The ability to form this mutualism reduces fertilizer costs for farmers and gardeners who grow legumes and allows legumes to be used in a crop rotation to replenish soil that has been depleted of nitrogen. The nitrogen fixation ability of legumes is enhanced by the availability of calcium in the soil and reduced by the presence of ample nitrogen. Some examples of legumes include beans, lentils, lupins, peas, and peanuts.
Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) (NPK)
These 3 nutrients are needed in the largest amount by plants and are referred to as macronutrients. Fertilizer is made up of these 3 macronutrients (along with smaller amounts of micro-nutrients). Fertilizers are described by a 3 number designator; for example, 20-20-10. These numbers are percentages of three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. Therefore, 20-20-10 fertilizer contains 20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus, and 10% potassium by weight.
Also, humus. Carbon-rich soil component that helps open up heavy clay soils, increasing air and water movement. Also helps hold sandy soils together – gives them structure and more stability.
pH is expressed in a range from 0 to 14, with 0 being most acidic, 14 being high in Alkaline and 7 being neutral. The pH of the soil is very important because pH affects plant nutrient availability by controlling the chemical form of the nutrient. All plants do not have the same pH preference and choosing plants that thrive in the pH of your soil will increase your productivity. Lime is commonly added to increase the pH. Compost or stable manure is often used to lower pH.
Soil bacteria that fix nitrogen after becoming established inside root nodules of legumes. Rhizobia require a plant host; they cannot independently fix nitrogen. Rhizobia are very important because Nitrogen is the most commonly deficient nutrient in many soils around the world and it is the most commonly supplied plant nutrient.
Soil Classification & Soil Type
Three ingredients make up soil: Clay, Silt and Sand. Clay is made up of very fine particles, Silt has slightly larger particles, Sand has the largest particles (mainly silicates). The main farm soils classifications are Clay Loam, Silt Loam, Loam, Sandy Loam and Loamy Fine Sand. Sandy Loam is thought to be the ideal soil type for vegetable production.
Soil Food Web
The community of organisms that live all or part of their lives in the soil, contributing to decomposition of organic matter. These organisms and their interactions are essential for optimum soil health.
A good tilth is a term referring to soil that has the proper structure and nutrients to grow healthy crops. Soil in good tilth is loamy, nutrient-rich soil that can also be said to be friable because optimal soil has a mixture of sand, clay and organic matter that prevents severe compaction.
Pest and Disease Management
In farming and agriculture, where the goal is to raise selected crops, insects that hinder the production process are classified as pests while insects that assist production are considered beneficial. In horticulture and gardening; pest control, habitat integration, and ‘natural vitality’ aesthetics are the desired outcome with beneficial insects. Encouraging beneficial insects, by providing suitable living conditions, is a pest control strategy, often used in organic farming, organic gardening or Integrated Pest Management. Companies specializing in biological pest control sell many types of beneficial insects, particularly for use in enclosed areas, like greenhouses.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
Usually referred to as “BT” is a naturally occurring bacterium that is lethal to most leaf-eating caterpillars on trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables. There are also varieties designed to kill mosquitoes or potato beetles. Bt is harmless to all other insects, animals, and humans. It comes in powder form for use as a dust or, diluted with water, for use as a foliar spray. It is also available in liquid form. It is sprayed or dusted on leaves of plants that are under attack by caterpillars so that the pests will ingest the bacteria as they eat the leaves. The Bt causes paralysis of the caterpillar’s digestive tract, causing it to stop feeding within two hours. Within a day or two the caterpillars die. Dipel is a commonly used BT in organic farming.
A natural fungicide and bactericide. Can be used on fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals for the prevention of leaf diseases, blights, mildews, brown rot and leaf spots. It is also used as a protection for early or late tomato blight. Coat plants ahead of the period in which disease is expected. Once the fungus comes into contact with the protective copper it’s killed instantly.
Fine white powder consisting of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. Diatomaceous earth does not kill due to a chemical action like most toxic poisons but rather kills by the structure of its sharp microscopic edges. The hard bodies of the pests are sliced open by the material and it literally drys them out and they die. Often used against slugs and other soft-bodied crawlers.
Downy mildew, caused by the fungal organism Pseudoperonospora cubensis, is most destructive to cucumber and cantaloupe though all cucurbits are susceptible. Symptoms first appear as pale green areas on the upper leaf surfaces. These change to yellow angular spots. A fine white-to-grayish downy growth soon appears on the lower leaf surface. Infected leaves generally die but may remain erect while the edges of the leaf blades curl inward. Usually, the leaves near the center of a hill or row are infected first. The infected area spreads outward, causing defoliation, stunted growth, and poor fruit development. The entire plant may eventually be killed. The fungus is easily carried by wind currents, rain splash, farm implements, or the hands and clothes of farm workers. It is favored by cool to moderately warm temperatures, but tolerates hot days, although long periods of dry hot weather can stifle the spread of the disease. Unlike powdery mildew, it requires humidity to flourish. Therefore, downy mildew is most aggressive when heavy dews, fog, and frequent rains occur.
Early Blight v. Late Blight
Late blight is a disease caused by a fungus-like microorganism that infects and kills tomato and potato plants. The pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, was responsible for the Irish potato famine of the 1840’s. Lesions develop on leaves and stems as dark, water-soaked spots. These spots enlarge until the entire leaf or stem turns brown and dies. Dead leaves typically remain attached to stems. The undersides of the lesions may be covered with a white fuzzy growth that contains the spores of the pathogen. Spores are spread short distances by rain and very long distances by the wind. Early blight, Alternaria solani, is a common fungal leaf spot disease. Early blight can infect tomato leaves early in the growing season and is favored by warm, humid weather. Late blight can occur at any time during the growing season when the weather is cool and wet (usually in later summer in the South). The disease is slowed down by a return to hot, dry weather.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
An integrated approach of crop management to solve ecological problems when applied in agriculture. These methods are performed in three stages: prevention, observation, and intervention. It is an ecological approach with a main goal of significantly reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides while at the same time managing pest populations at an acceptable level.
Neemix kills larvae stages of insect pests including whiteflies, caterpillars, leafminers, aphids, diamondback moths, cutworms, chich bugs, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, grubs and many more. Targets insect larvae by interfering with the insects’ ability to molt.
Any harmful introduced infectious agent, organism, or condition that reduces a plant’s overall vitality, inhibits its growth, or limits the ability of the plant to survive and reproduce. Pathogens can be delivered in a multitude of different ways. These include bacteria, fungi, viruses, nematodes, oomycetes, and abiotic toxicities. There are several different factors that need to be present in order to create an outbreak of disease on the farm. The pathogen must be present. There must be suitable host plants around. And there must be favorable environmental conditions for the growth and development of that particular plant pathogen.
Areas of permanent vegetation located in an agricultural landscape: field edges, field middles, odd corners, or virtually any location that is suited for pollinator habitat. Vegetation consists of acceptable herbaceous and/or woody plants.
The biotic agent (vector) that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization or syngamy of the female gamete in the ovule of the flower by the male gamete from the pollen grain. Many species of bees, honey bees, wasps (esp. Sphecidae and Vespidae), bombyliid flies and syrphid flies are just a few of the important pollinators on a farm. Honey bees are by far the most important commercial pollinating agents, but many other kinds of pollinators, from bluebottle flies to bumblebees, orchard mason bees, and leaf cutter bees are cultured and sold for managed pollination.
Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease that affects a wide range of plants. Powdery mildew diseases are caused by many different species of fungi in the order Erysiphales. It is one of the easier diseases to spot, as its symptoms are quite distinctive. Infected plants display white powdery spots on the leaves and stems. The lower leaves are the most affected, but the mildew can appear on any above-ground part of the plant. As the disease progresses, the spots get larger and denser as large numbers of asexual spores are formed, and the mildew may spread up and down the length of the plant.
PyGanic contains a pyrethrum formula (a botanical insecticide derived from chrysanthemums). There is an OMRI approved PyGanic. It provides rapid knockdown and killing of more than 40 plant pests, as well as causing insects and mites to flush from hiding. Pests controlled include aphids, beetles, caterpillars, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, Harlequin bugs, thrips, etc. PyGanic is approved for use on over 200 fruits and vegetables and may be applied on the day of harvest. PyGanic is “broad spectrum” i.e. it kills beneficial insects as well as pests.
Lightweight blankets made of spunbonded polypropylene which is sunlight, rain and air-permeable. They offer 4 benefits: 1) Capturing warmth, resulting in healthier plant growth and earlier yields. 2) Protecting plants from damaging winds. 3) Most effective, least toxic, form of insect control. 4) Protecting your plants from light frost, thus extending the growing season. Cover your crops immediately after planting to keep insects out and to promote increased warmth. Apply the cover loosely so plants can lift it as they grow, and secure edges.
Safer Insecticidal Soap
Also called M-Pede and Des-X, Safe Insecticidal soap is a natural insecticide, fungicide, and miticide. Effective against a broad range of soft-bodied pests. Can be used on all growing plants – indoor and outdoor. Can be used up to the day of harvest.
A bio-fungicide that is used preventatively. Controls plant pathogens such as downy mildew, botrytis brown rot, leaf blight, bacterial spot, rust, scab, gray mold, grape powdery mildew and much more. Not harmful to beneficials and can be sprayed on the day of harvest. Serenade works on a wide range of diseases and on a variety of crops.
Made of Kaolin clay. A White coating that covers plant surface and suppresses pests and reduced harmful solar effects. For tree crops: protects against psylla and plum cruculio. For vegetable crops: suppresses flea beetles, Japanese beetles, lace bugs, leafhoppers, thrips and more. It is best to apply Surround when bees are not actively foraging.
An agent used to carry genes into another organism. Specific examples of natural vectors include plasmids or viruses.
Both walk – behind and tractor pulled options are available. A large material hopper is positioned over a horizontal spinning disk, the disk has a series of 3 or 4 fins attached to it which throw the dropped materials from the hopper out and away from the seeder/spreader.
Both walk – behind and tractor pulled options are available. Releases seeds, fertilizer, amendments, etc directly under the implement, making it very concise.
A motorized cultivator that works the soil by rotating tines or blades. Rotary tillers are either self-propelled or drawn as an attachment behind either a two-wheel tractor or four-wheel tractor. For two-wheel tractors they are rigidly fixed and powered via couplings to the tractors’ transmission. For four-wheel tractors they are attached by means of a three-point hitch and driven by a power take-off (PTO).
A tool used to manually break up densely packed soil, like hardpan, to improve aeration and drainage. It consists of five or so metal tines, approximately eight inches long, spaced a few inches apart on a horizontal bar, with two handles extending upwards to chest or shoulder level, forming a large U-shape. The operator steps up on the crossbar, using full body weight to drive the tines into the ground, then steps backward while pulling backward on the handles, causing the tines to lever upwards through the soil. This action leaves the soil layers intact, rather than inverting or mixing them, preserving the topsoil structure. It is good for small scale growing.
Has a long, narrow rectangular blade. It is used in a sweeping motion alongside your body with the handle very upright. Using a collinear hoe is kinda like shaving your garden soil to remove the weeds! The sharp thin blades are usually replaceable and work well on soil that is reasonably prepared. These types of hoes don’t work well in hard soil with large clods.
So named because the working end looks much like a stirrup on a saddle. Also called a hula hoe or a scuffle hoe. It works by sliding just below the surface of the soil, cutting the roots of the weeds. The traditional hoe works by chopping weeds either above ground or below ground, weeds will often regrow and there is much soil disturbance. A stirrup hoe minimizes soil disturbance, and, as a result, may cause less drying of the soil. More importantly, it reduces the development of new weeds when used properly.
Good for small-scale growing. Fast and easy to operate: multiple plates allow for many different sizes of seeds so you need to select the correct plate, load seed into the hopper and push the seeder in front of you – the motion of the wheels turn the plates and drop the seeds. Many styles have an arm that marks the next row as you’re sowing and a chain that drags behind – covering the seeds.
Uses the oscillating stirrup hoe blade but is mounted on a wheeled frame. Operate by walking forward while making push / pull motions with arms. Is used to weed in rows as aisles.
Planting species that compliment or defend one another in the garden is known as companion planting. For example, planting African marigolds with tomatoes has been shown to decrease harmful nematodes in the soil. Planting onions and garlic near sweeter crops deters pests from eating the sweet crops. Other companion plant pairings are chosen to attract pollinators and beneficial insects, or to maximize space in the garden.
A crop grown for the soil instead of the plate. Cover crops provide many benefits to the garden and the soil and are comprised of many species of plants. Growers choose species of cover crop based on the season, soil needs, and many other factors.
A common practice of moving crops to different beds each season, or multiple times within a growing season. Crop rotation can assist with pest and disease control, and help manage soil nutrient cycling.
Also referred to as “direct seed”, this refers to planting seeds directly into your garden, as opposed to putting out transplants.
Refers to a “resting” period or resting state of a piece of land. Bare fallow refers to land left with soil exposed. Living fallow is sometimes used to describe fields or beds that are being kept in cover crop during a break between garden crops.
A cover crop that is particularly succulent and fast in maturing. Green Manures are often used in between crops to smother weeds in fallow areas and add quickly-decomposing biomass into the soil.
Exposing transplants to harsher conditions before setting them out in the garden. The process of hardening off usually involves reducing water and lowering temperatures so that young plants become more “hardy” before they are introduced to the garden.
A soil cover. Mulches on the garden scale can consist of straw, cardboard, shredded paper, compost, etc. Gardeners mulch to maintain soil temperature and moisture, block weed germination and protect plants from soil and debris during hard rain events.
National Organic Program (NOP)
A program of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture.) It develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic food.
Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) (NPK)
These are the three main macronutrients responsible for healthy growth, flowering, and fruit set of vegetable and ornamental crops. NPK readings are the main nutrient readings expressed on fertilizer bags, or in discussions of crop supplements. For example, a fertilizer with a 6-0-3 nutrient balance will contain six parts nitrogen to zero parts phosphorus to three parts potassium.
The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)
A nonprofit organization started in 1997 by organic certification agencies. OMRI’s mission is to provide professional, independent, and transparent review of materials allowed to produce, process and handle organic food and fiber. OMRI’s information services are designed to assist certifiers, growers, handlers, processors, and suppliers in determining the compatibility of generic materials and brand name products for organic production under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) Rule and other international standards. Within this regulatory framework, OMRI serves the industry in the role of an advisory and educational support agency.
A garden bed that is constructed to be raised off of the ground, either inside of a built frame, or simply made of mounded, aerated soil. The soil in raised beds is well-drained and aerated and responds to temperature fluctuations more rapidly than the soil in ground-beds.
A buffer or zone of plants that are attractive to beneficial pollinators and insects. Refuges usually consist of native, or non-invasive exotic flowering plants, however, refuges can also be unintentional (such as a ditch full of weeds near the garden). Refuges provide breeding ground and feeding ground for beneficial insects, but can also provide overwintering sites for pest insects. The organic gardener encourages intentional refuges that will attract the right beneficial insects, in hopes that those insects will keep populations of pest insects in check.
Removing young plants that are too close together in a planting group. Thinning allows for proper aeration and enables plants to grow to their proper size.
Also called “starts”, transplants are baby plants that you can buy to plant in your garden.
Refers to sudden wilt and sometimes death of plants that are not properly hardened off when they are planted in the garden.
A crop planted specifically to attract pest insects, deterring them from the main crop. For example, cleome is a host plant for the cabbage moth, so gardeners will often plant it near cabbage and related vegetables to deter cabbage worms from food crops.
The evaporation or movement of a substance causing it to pass off vapor. Volitilization of pesticides as well as fertilizers and organic nutrients occurs based on the rate they are applied, relative humidity, and their stability at application.
Plant Care/Seed Selection
Also known as trickle irrigation or micro-irrigation, is an irrigation method which saves water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either onto the soil surface or directly onto the root zone, through a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters. Advantages of drip include: minimized fertilizer/nutrient loss due to localized application and reduced leaching, higher water application efficiency, moisture within the root zone can be maintained at field capacity, highly uniform distribution of water, foliage remains dry thus reducing the risk of disease. Disadvantages include: initial set-up costs can be expensive, more clean-up after a crop / end of the season, lines can get clogged with silt.
A technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to their leaves. The absorption takes place through the stomata of the leaves and also through the epidermis. It is common to use sea-based nutrient mixes, especially kelp because they contain many of the fifty “trace nutrients.”
Traditional seed varieties which have been grown and selected for their desirable traits for millennia. They grow well without high inputs because they have been selected under organic conditions. This, versus “hybrid seeds” which are the first generation offsprings of two distant and distinct parental lines of the same species. Seeds taken from a hybrid may either be sterile or more commonly fail to breed true, not incorporating and expressing the desired traits of the parent. The development of hybrid seed enabled the beginning of the commercial seed market.
Seed grown without synthetic chemicals, it is believed that seed produced organically will yield plants that are more adapted to, and more likely to thrive under, organic growing conditions.
Refers to fertilizer placed two to four inches beside a row of vegetables. A general rule is to side-dress when growth has slowed and plant color has lightened. Side dressing too often or too heavily can result in no fruit or a burned plant. When side dressing, apply fertilizer several inches away from the base of the plant. Wash off any fertilizer touching the stems.
Untreated Seed v. Treated Seed
Treated seeds have been coated with a protective agent to increase the chances of successful germination. In most cases, it is a fungicide to prevent damping off and other seedling diseases. In some cases, it is an insecticide to control seed and seedling eating insects. It is used mainly on peas, beans and corn as they are the most susceptible to these types of problems. The main advantage to seeding treated seed is you are able to plant earlier into cooler damper soils which would otherwise cause the seeds to rot in the soil. Untreated seed will perform quite well provided the seeds are planted later once the soil has had a chance to warm up. It is also a good idea when planting untreated peas, beans, and corn, to sow the seeds thicker to ensure that you get the plant stand you are looking for.
A genus of plants in the Amaryllidaceae family that are informally referred to as “the onion” genus. Allium vegetable crops include onion, garlic, asparagus, chives, and leeks.
A biological occurrence in which one organisms releases chemicals or hormones that inhibit the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms. For example, black walnut trees have been known to inhibit the growth of many plants in their understory, and decomposing ryegrass will inhibit the germination of certain brassica seeds.
The biological material derived from living or recently-deceased organisms. Usually, the term biomass is used to described plant material. In the garden, biomass is used to create compost or added in its raw form to garden beds to increase soil organic matter as it is decomposed by soil microorganisms.
A genus of plants in the mustard family, also known as cruciferous vegetables, or “crucifers.” Also called “cole crops”, from the latin caulis, which means stem. Common brassicas in southern Appalachian vegetable gardens are collard greens, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, and brussels sprouts.
Refers to a pesticide that is not specific to any insect. Broad-spectrum insecticides will eliminate all insects that respond to its mechanism. For example, bT will kill caterpillars, and this is not limited to corn earworms and cabbage loopers. It will also eliminate monarch and swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Gardeners wishing to promote pollinators and beneficial insects in the garden will use broad-spectrum insecticides as a last resort, using softer, more targeted remedies first.
The process by which pressure applied to soil causes it to become denser, reducing aeration, drainage, and overall soil structure. Compaction is undesirable in garden soil, as it reduces overall tilth and discourages healthy microbial activity.
A member of the plant family “Cucurbitaceae”, which consists of a multitude of different squashes, cucumbers, melons, and gourds.
Also referred to as “variety”, the cultivar is the most specific form of plant identification and refers to traits that have been selected and encouraged within a species. For example, there are many crookneck summer squashes, all classified by the genus and species “Cucurbita pepo”, but one may identify a cultivar to hone in on a particular squash more accurately. For example, Cucurbita pepo, ‘Zephyr’ has been bred to produce bi-colored fruits.
A level of hierarchy in plant classification. All plants are classified or identified by placing them in groups or categories to show relationships. All plants can be identified or associated with successive categories that are arranged hierarchically, as follows: Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. When people discuss plant names, the Genus is the first classification term you will hear. For example, when using the latin name for bell pepper, someone will say “Capsicum annum” In this case, “Capsicum” is the genus, to which all peppers belong.
A plant in the family “Solanaceae”, which may also be referred to as a solanaceous plant. Nightshades include potato, tomato, eggplant, tomatillo, and peppers, as well as many herbs and medicinal plants.
Refers to the ability of a plant to mine particular nutrients from the soil. For example, buckwheat is used as a cover crop for its ability to “scavenge” phosphorus and store it in its tissues. Growers then kill buckwheat and allow it to decompose, releasing the scavenged phosphorus for re-use in the garden.
A level of hierarchy in plant classification. All plants are classified or identified by placing them in groups or categories to show relationships. All plants can be identified or associated with successive categories that are arranged hierarchically, as follows: Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
A level of hierarchy in plant classification. All plants are classified or identified by placing them in groups or categories to show relationships. All plants can be identified or associated with successive categories that are arranged hierarchically, as follows: Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. When people discuss plant names, the Species is the second classification term you will hear. For example, when discussing echinacea plants using latin names, one may differentiate between plants by discussing the different species. “Echinacea purpura” will exhibit different traits than “Echinacea pallida”, due to the species differentiation.
A close, often long-term, mutually beneficial interaction between two or more organisms.
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