We continually strive to improve our soils through compost application, cover cropping, and rotational grazing of animals. These methods increase soil nutrients and organic matter, benefiting plant growth from germination to harvest. Our soil health practices support healthy, robust plants, which decreases the presence of pests and disease.
Weeds are managed 100% organically, primarily using light surface tillage. We transplant most crops as seedlings to help them get a "leg up" on the first germinating weed seeds. After transplanting, we will cultivate them using a wheel hoe, stirrup hoe, hand hoe or tractor. Hand pulling is used as necessary for larger weeds, or for some slow-growing direct sown crops, like carrots. We will also use cover cropping and stale seed bed techniques for weed management. Cover crops shade out many annual weeds, vastly decreasing the number that will go to seed and become an issue for the succeeding crop. Stale seed bedding--starting with fallow plowed ground and cultivating very lightly to kill germinated weed seeds, in several rounds--is a technique we use primarily for direct-sown crops.
Unwanted insects and other "vegetable predators" are managed through monitoring and our own "beyond organic" system. Physical and cultural controls, such as floating row covers and careful timing of plantings, are always used first. We will hand-pick some pests, including tomato horn worms and potato beetles. Biological controls, like beneficial nematodes and predatory wasps, which control root maggots and bean beetles, are used as a next step in some cases. Chemical controls are a very last resort, only for severe and crop-threatening infestations, and the most benign sprays are always used first. Soap and neem oil are examples of our OMRI-listed options. When necessary to save a crop, we would only use controls that are Certified Organic by the USDA.
Organic disease control on our small vegetable operation is achieved primarily through cultural controls. Cultural controls are things like choosing resistant seed varieties, increasing space between plants, and growing particularly vulnerable crops (like tomatoes) under the cozy plastic of our hoophouses.