Listen Now
Pledge Now


Organic Production, Mulches & Tomato Varieties for the North Shore

NorGard_Thurs_041411.mp3102.27 MB

Organic Food Production, Mulches, Pruning and Tomato Varieties
April 14, 2011

Welcome to Northern Gardening!

In this show, Joan Farnam and Diane Booth talk about Organic Food Production, Mulches, Pruning and Tomato Varieties. Guests are  Jim Riddle from the University of Minnesota Organic Ecology Research and Outreach Program in Lamberton and local gardener Bill Lane.

What is organic production?
There are lots of terms out there like ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ or ‘locally‐grown’, but what does the term "Organic" mean?
• Organic production is defined by the USDA National Organic Program regulation as a “production system that is managed…to respond to site‐specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

Crop Farms
‐ 3 years with no application of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) prior to the first harvest of organic crops
‐ Buffer zones to prevent contamination from adjoining land uses
‐ Organic system plan for the farm
‐ Use of natural inputs or approved synthetic substances on the National List only after preventative practices are insufficient
‐ No use of GMOs, sewage sludge, ionizing radiation
‐ Use of organic seeds and planting stock
‐ Raw manure and compost must follow restrictions to safeguard human and environmental health
‐ Maintain or improve physical, chemical and biological condition of the soil, minimize soil erosion, use crop rotations
‐ No field burning to dispose of crop residues – burning only to suppress disease or stimulate seed germination – flame weeding allowed.

Processing Operations
‐ Mechanical or biological processing methods
‐ No commingling or contamination of organic products
‐ No use of GMOs, ionizing radiation, artificial dyes, solvents or preservatives
‐ Use proactive sanitation and facility pest management practices to prevent pest infestations
‐ No use of fungicides, preservatives or fumigants in packaging materials
‐ 100 percent organic ingredients; 95 percent organic ingredients or 70 percent organic ingredients
‐ Required traceability – name of certification agency on product’s information panel

Livestock Operations
‐ 100 percent organic feed for all organic animals
‐ Organic management for last 1/3 gestation for meat animals and 2nd day after hatching for poultry
‐ One year of organic management for dairy cows
‐ Mandatory grazing on pasture for ruminants at least 120 days per year
‐ Mandatory outdoor access for all species when weather is suitable
‐ No antibiotics, growth hormones, GMOs, or feeding of animal by‐products
‐ Manure needs to be managed to prevent contamination of crops, water and to optimize recycling of nutrients.

Food labels review:
• "Natural" is simply a ploy to get you to buy a product. Doesn’t let us know whether it is organic, local or humanely raised.
• "No Hormones" is false because all animals have hormones in their products.
• “Naturally raised” is a voluntary (read: unregulated) label that means livestock have been raised without antibiotics and growth hormones and have not been fed animal byproducts.
• Cage-Free: Hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses but may not have access to the outdoors.
• Free-Range: Essentially the same as “cage‐free”, hens are uncaged and more likely to have access to the outdoors.

Why should I care if I grow my own foods organically or purchase organically grown foods?

 Health Reasons
1. Exposure to pesticides is associated with the risk of cancer.
2. Organic products have very low or no pesticide residues.
3. Organic product consumption reduces exposures to organophosphorous insecticides that are known to disrupt neurological development in infants and children.
4. Vegetables grown on organic farms or non‐organic farms have the same amount of risk for sources of food borne disease.
• Nutrition
1. Organic crops contain fewer nitrates, nitrites and pesticide residues.
2. Organic crops contain more dry matter, vitamin C, phenolic compounds, essential amino acids, minerals and total sugars
• Soil Quality
1. Organic practices build soil organic matter content – offsets tillage, increases microbial activity.
2. By year 4 or 5 of organic production, often will out produce conventional farming methods.

1. Diverse plant communities support beneficial insect communities that help manage pest populations.
• No Genetic Engineering
1. Genetically engineered Bt corn harms aquatic insects and disrupts stream ecosystems.
2. Genetically engineered crops have established feral populations outside of cultivated crops.

Climate Change
1. Integrates closed nutrient cycles and enhances soil carbon sequestration
2. 33 percent reduction in fossil fuel use for organic corn/soybean farm systems that use cover crops or compost instead of chemical fertilizers

Feeding the World
1. 30 percent increase in world‐wide yields using organic methods.

Mulches and Soil Amendments

What’s the difference between a soil amendment and a mulch?
• Mulches are placed on top of the soil.
• Soil amendments are incorporated into the soil.

What’s the purpose of a mulch or a soil amendment?
• A soil amendment is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties, such as water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration and structure. The goal is to provide a better environment for roots.
• A mulch is left on the soil surface. Its purpose is to reduce evaporation and runoff, inhibit weed growth, and create an attractive appearance. Mulches also moderate soil temperature, helping to warm soils in the spring and cool them in the summer. Mulches may be incorporated into the soil as amendments after they have decomposed to the point that they no longer serve their purpose.

Soil Amendments
 There are two broad categories of soil amendments: organic and inorganic.
• Organic amendments come from something that is or was alive. Organic amendments include sphagnum peat, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, biosolids, sawdust and wood ash.

Organic amendments increase soil organic matter content and offer many benefits. Organic matter improves soil aeration, water infiltration, and both water- and nutrient-holding capacity. Many organic amendments contain plant nutrients and act as organic fertilizers. Organic matter also is an important energy source for bacteria, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil.

The Changing Forms of Soil Organic Matter
• Additions. When roots and leaves die, they become part of the soil organic matter.
• Transformations. Soil organisms continually change organic compounds from one form to another. They consume plant residue and other organic matter, and then create by-products, wastes, and cell tissue.
• Microbes feed plants. Some of the wastes released by soil organisms are nutrients that can be used by plants. Organisms release other compounds that affect plant growth.
• Stabilization of organic matter. Eventually, soil organic compounds become stabilized and resistant to further changes.

Inorganic amendments, on the other hand, are either mined or man-made. Inorganic amendments include vermiculite, perlite, tire chunks, pea gravel and sand.

Mulches: Organic and Inorganic
• Reduce weed growth
• Regulate temperatures
• Maintain uniform moisture
• Organic mulches can add nutrients and humus

Organic: straw, cardboard, wood chips, pine needles, grass clippings, leaves, compost,
Inorganic: black plastic, clear plastic, newspaper, red plastic,
Cover crops / green manures: clover, rye, buckwheat, legumes, etc.

Tomato Varieties
• Determinate vs. indeterminate
• Use for the tomato or fruit characteristics
• Disease resistance
• Heirloom or open-pollinated or hybrid
• Time to maturity

Sun Gold is a 65-day, hybrid, indeterminate golden-orange cherry tomato. The plants are big and rangy, so they need to be well staked, and should be surrounded by a strong cage. Support them well, and they'll produce an incredible abundance of 1" diameter ultra-sweet fruit over a full 3 months. If you live where summers are hot, you probably don't have much trouble growing sweet, flavorful tomatoes. But in areas where summer is short and nights are cool, tomatoes never get very sweet. I have been so spoiled by Sun
Gold's dependable super-sweet flavor that I now add them to my tomato sauces and slice them onto my sandwiches.

Juliet is a 60-day indeterminate that produces a huge crop. The fruit is oval and it's about 2" long. It's firm, glossy and quite dense, like a miniature paste tomato. Juliet ripens fast and furious, and I use it for soups, sauces, salsas and cold salads. They also get stewed whole for canning, and get halved for drying. Leave on the vine a long time for the best flavor as it turns color fast but isn’t ready.

Sweet Million--Indet. Hybrid. (65 days) An improved Sweet 100 type cherry. Equally prolific and sweet, but with less cracking and better disease resistance.

Early Girl--Indet. Hybrid. (64 days) Very early, red salad tomato. Consistently does well in taste tests. Bush early girl that is determinate. BURPEE or Early Girl Improved (60 days) Ind. PINE TREE

Glacier – OP (56 days) Det. Superior in flavor to Siberia, Stupice and Bloody Butcher. I haven’t tried this one yet, but plan to compare it to some of the others in this early class. One to try from FEDCO

Black Prince – OP (75 days) Ind. Outstanding flavor similar to Black Krim but a bit earlier, more uniform and without a tendency to crack.

Honeydrop – OP (62 days) cherry tomato that is very sweet, juicy, fruity. Light honey gold in color. One to try from FEDCO.

Gardener’s Delight – OP (68 days) Ind. Large cherry tomato that has a tendency to crack but has excellent flavor.

Sweet Chelsea – hybrid (67 days) Large cherry tomato that is indeterminate but bears lots of great tasting fruit perfect for salads.

Grandma Mary’s Paste Tomato – (68 days) OP Ind. Tried for one year – will try again – was too late even though it is supposed to be early. FEDCO

Fourth of July – hybrid (49 days) Ind. Haven’t tried this one yet, but will be trialing this one in the summer. It has been grown in St. Louis County with good results. BURPEE

Sweet Baby Girl - hybrid (65 days) Ind. Great tasting, very prolific cherry tomato that grows in immense red clusters.

Anna Russian - OP (65 days) Ind. Teardrop shaped fruit very large – up to a lb – too sweet and mushy for me. More of a dark pink color.

Prune for plant health
1. Dead or dying branches
2. Branches that rub together
3. Mechanical damage

Prune to maintain your plants
1. Encourage fruit and flowers
2. Maintain a dense hedge
3. Keep a tree form or shape

Prune for plant appearance
1. Control the plant size
2. Keep everything well proportioned
3. Remove branches, suckers, waterspouts

Prune to protect property
1. Narrow crotches w/ included bark
2. Plant obscuring vision
3. Hazardous trees

When to prune
Early Spring Bloomers - Prune after blooming before flower buds are set for the following year.
Foliage Shrubs - Prune early in the year before the leaves bud out
New Growth Bloomers - Prune in the spring
Hedges – Prune twice a year – spring and fall – keep base wider than top for sunlight
Older, Overgrown Shrubs – Renewal pruning 1/3 over three years
Spruce / Balsam Fir - Early spring – side buds will grow if terminal bud is removed
Pines – Young candles can be cut back up to 2/3 – if you remove terminal buds there are no lateral buds
Arborvitae, junipers, yews, hemlocks – They can be cut back anytime through middle of summer

If you are looking for a garden space this year,  we might be able to find a garden for you in our GardenShare program. For more information, contact Joan Farnam at 370-9794.

Call us and tell us what topics you'd like to hear us cover on Northern Gardening. You can call Diane Booth at 387-3015 or Joan Farnam at 387-3101 or e-mail her at

Our next program will be on Thursday, May 12 from 4 – 5 p.m. on WTIP.