Fact Sheets

Crop Topics

Soil-less Mixes for Vegetable Seedling Production

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus Farmers developed soil-less mixes for use in containers for seedlings because field soil does not work well. Soil alone is heavy and poorly aerated. It tends to become waterlogged and sticky when wet. Then it shrinks when it dries, pulls away from the container edges and turns

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Providing Nitrogen to Organic Crops

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus Nitrogen is usually the nutrient that is in limiting supply, i.e., the limiting factor to crop growth on organic farms. Plants deficient in nitrogen are stunted, yellowish (especially the lower leaves), and have restricted root growth. Plants turn yellow because nitrogen is an integral part of chlorophyll,

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Basics of Organic Vegetable Gardening

Prepared byDr. Eric Sideman andDr. Jean English Introduction The science of gardening is complex, but the actual practice is simple. The central goal of organic gardening is to maintain or improve the ability of the soil to support plant life as it produces a crop of vegetables each year. That ability depends on a dynamic

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Establishing and Caring for an Organic Lawn

The cool climate of Maine favors healthy lawns. The grass will grow lush and with few problems as long as basic plant needs are met, including proper soil fertility, soil structure, soil organic matter and proper watering and mowing You don’t need synthetic pesticides or fertilizers for a quality lawn, and such synthetic chemicals can

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Garden Weeds

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus Garden weeds are simply plants that are growing where you do not want them. Any plant species may be a weed, but in gardens in New England, there are some species that are very common. And, in some gardens, very common is an understatement. Why do some

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Composting in the Back Yard or on a Small Farm

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus Composting is a natural, biological process in which microorganisms use organic materials as food and leave a residue of digested organic matter that is almost completely decomposed. Composting is the same as the decomposition that happens to all living things when they die, except that you control

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An Introduction to the Physical Nature of Soils

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus Benefits of Composting The soil is a complex and dynamic system of living and nonliving components. In natural ecosystems, minerals cycle from living back to non-living components, while organic matter levels remain relatively constant as deposits of organic matter (from falling leaves, for example) balance decomposition. In

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Ridge Tillage at Hackmatack Farm

By Nicolas LindholmPhotos and illustrations by Nicolas Lindholm Ridge tillage as we practice it at Hackmatack Farm is a system of growing vegetable crops in raised ridges formed before planting. Essential to this system is incorporation of winterkilled cover crops and other organic matter into the top surface layer of soil as we form the

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Zone Tillage – A Reduced Tillage Option for Northern Farms

By Jan Goranson and Rob Johanson, Goranson Farm, Dresden, and Jean English, Ph.D., MOFGA Plowing and tilling soil excessively can reduce soil health by exposing soil to so much aeration that organic matter oxidizes excessively; subjecting soil to wind and water erosion; inverting soil layers, thus displacing soil organisms from their ecological niches. Plowing and

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Organic Strawberry Production

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus Introduction Similar to any organic crop production, producing strawberries organically entails a system approach to the whole farm. Many of the practices are the same in organic and conventional strawberry systems, but the fundamental approach to soil husbandry and pest management may be quite different. Successful organic

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Storing Garden Vegetables

by Eric Sideman, PhD and Cheryl Wixson, P.E. Apples Use caution when storing apples with other vegetables as they give off ethylene gas that causes other vegetables to rot. They can be stored in tubs with lids to prevent this effect. Choose varieties that are good winter keepers, like golden russet, Belle de Boskeep, winter

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Natural Sources of Plant Nutrients

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus There are two basic approaches to fertilization. The first is to provide required nutrients to each crop in a soluble form that plants can use immediately, i.e., feed the plant. The advantage to this approach is the opportunity to quite accurately meet a crop’s need. The disadvantage

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Using Green Manures

by Eric Sideman, PhDMOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist Emeritus Introduction There is no such thing as the “best green manure”. A grower has to decide what is the most important benefit to their farm system of growing green manures and what is the window of opportunity that they have to take cropland out of production. This

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Pest Topics

Powdery Mildew of Cucurbits

Disease: Powdery Mildew of Cucurbits (Podosphaera xanthii and Erysiphe cichoracearum) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Management options: Powdery mildew is a common disease of pumpkins and winter squash. All cucurbits are susceptible, but many common cucumber and melon varieties have had powdery mildew resistance bred into them. The disease

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Hornworms

Pest: Hornworms (Manduca sexta, M. quinquemaculata) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Hornworms are probably the most destructive insect that attacks tomatoes. They are giant caterpillars that grow rapidly and can do a vast amount of eating in a very short amount of time. Sometimes it seems that healthy-looking tomato

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Scarab beetles

Pest: Scarab beetles (Asiatic Garden, Japanese, Oriental, Chafers) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: There are several species of scarab beetles that are common in New England turf, fruit and vegetable crops. These were all introduced to the United States. Japanese beetles are the most common and widely distributed. Below

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Basil Downy Mildew

Pest: Basil Downy Mildew (Peronospora belbahrii) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Downy mildew of basil was first reported in Uganda back in 1930. Relatively recently it spread to Italy in 2004, France in 2005, United States (Florida) in 2007 and by 2009 had made its way to New England.

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Tortoise Beetle

Pest: Tortoise beetle (species in the Cassidinae subfamily) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: These beetles are typically only a very minor pest. They do not typically cause serious damage and do not warrant spraying. The numbers are usually small and the beetles can be picked off by hand, and

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Blossom End Rot

Blossom End Rot Blossom end rot is a familiar sight for many tomato growers, but it can affect other crops as well, such as peppers and squash. Though it may look like a disease, and it sometimes allows infection by secondary decay organisms, blossom end rot is an abiotic growth disorder caused by stressful growing

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Early Blight

Disease: Early blight on tomato (Alternaria) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Early blight is a serious problem in tomatoes and potatoes, but rarely affects peppers and eggplants. In most years, it is very common; much more common than late blight, which is usually rare in Maine. All aboveground portions

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Garlic Anthracnose

Pest: Anthracnose (Colletotrichum fioriniae) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: The fungus pathogen that is responsible for anthracnose on garlic scapes (Colletotrichum fioriniae), is the same fungus that causes celery anthracnose — described in this pest report from 2019. One theory for the relatively recent appearance of the disease is

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Cutworms

Pest: Cutworms (many species) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Cutworms are occasional pests of many crops early in the season, including carrots, peas, onions, spinach, broccoli and the list goes on and on. Some years they result in major losses, other years result in no loss at all. They

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Cucurbit Downy Mildew

Pest: Cucurbit downy mildew (Pseudoperonospora cubensis) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Cucurbit downy mildew can be very destructive of cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and melons, if conditions are favorable to it. This disease does not overwinter here, and its severity in any given season is often dependent upon when it

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Squash Bug

Pest: Squash Bug (Anasa tristis) Pest identification and lifecycle, most common symptoms and crops affected: Squash bugs are serious pests of pumpkins and squash throughout North America. Plant damage, and bug survival, are low on watermelon, very low on cucumber and muskmelon, and highest on squash and pumpkin. Both adults and nymphs feed by inserting

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Squash Vine Borer

Pest: Squash vine borer (Melittia cucurbitae) Pest identification and lifecycle, most common symptoms and crops affected: Squash vine borer moths are day-flying moths with a 1 to 1.5 inch wingspan and bright orange-red markings. In flight, they look like wasps. There is thought to be only one generation per year in New England with adults

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Tarnished Plant Bug and Four-Lined Plant Bug

Pests: Tarnished Plant Bug (Lygus lineolaris) and Four-Lined Plant Bug (Poecilocapsus lineatus) Pest identification and lifecycle, most common symptoms and crops affected: The tarnished plant bug is a small (6 mm), bronze, brown and black bug that feeds on a very wide variety of plants (up to 300 different species). They overwinter as adults under

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Potato Leafhoppers

Pest: Potato Leafhoppers (Empoasca fabae) Pest identification and lifecycle, most common symptoms and crops affected: The potato leafhopper has been arriving here in New England earlier and earlier. If you see unexplained yellowing of leaves of beans or potatoes, check for the critter. They primarily feed on beans, potatoes, eggplants, strawberries and alfalfa, but will

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Striped Cucumber Beetle

Pest: Striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Striped cucumber beetle is our most serious early-season pest in cucurbit crops. These beetles spend the winter in plant debris in field edges and with the onset of warm days and emergence of cucurbit crops they rapidly move

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Colorado Potato Beetle

Pest: Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) Pest identification and lifecycle, most common symptoms and crops affected: As with most other insects and plants, there is a direct relationship between higher temperatures (in the range between about 55 and 90 degrees) and faster rate of development. That includes egg-laying, egg hatch, larval growth and feeding rates.

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Seedcorn Maggot and Other Maggots

Pests: Seedcorn maggot (Hylemya platura), Onion maggot (Delia antiqua), Cabbage maggot (Delia radicum) Pest identification and lifecycle, most common symptoms and crops affected: Seedcorn maggot larvae feed on seeds and young seedlings of many crops (including corn, beans, beets, peas, spinach, onions and Brassicas). The first symptoms are usually poor germination (or failure of seedlings

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Seedling Problems

In the early spring, when most plants are still in greenhouses — a much more controlled setting than gardens and fields — a lot of the problems that arise are abiotic (i.e., not infectious). Sometimes abiotic issues are transient (e.g., cold temperatures) so it’s good to both check new growth to see how it looks

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Leek moth adults

Leek Moth

Pests: Leek Moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: Leek moth is a newer invasive pest of allium crops like onions, garlic, shallots and chives, and, as the name suggests, they are particularly fond of leeks. As with most moth pests the crop damage is from its larval

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Three-lined potato beetle adults

Three-Lined Potato Beetle

Pests: Three-Lined Potato Beetle (Lema daturaphila) Pest/disease identification and lifecycle, most common damage symptoms and crops affected: The favorite foods of the three-lined potato beetle are crop and weed species in the Physalis genus, notably tomatillo and husk cherries. Potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants are also sometimes attacked. The adult of this pest is about the

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Lawn Care

Establishing and Caring for an Organic Lawn

The cool climate of Maine favors healthy lawns. The grass will grow lush and with few problems as long as basic plant needs are met, including proper soil fertility, soil structure, soil organic matter and proper watering and mowing You don’t need synthetic pesticides or fertilizers for a quality lawn, and such synthetic chemicals can

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Livestock Topics

Manure Management from Facility to Field

“Farmers are outstanding in their field.” – Unknown Facilities: Barn design Considering barn design in relation to livestock and poultry manure output can be critical. Designing low-cost facilities while balancing their efficiency can depend on species and production considerations. For example, dairy cows create considerable amounts of wet manure and urine, making bedded pack barn

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Basic Care of Cattle

Basic biology: Average Body Temperature: 100.5 F  Age of sexual maturity: 6 months   Heat cycle: 21 days Gestation: 283 days (9 months) Productive life: 10-12 years Digestive system: Ruminant Types of cattle: Dairy – Cattle selectively bred to produce larger volumes of milk than their calves would consume.  Beef – Cattle selectively bred to be

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Raising Organic Pigs

by Diane Schivera, MAT Pigs can be valuable additions to diversified farms by providing meat and helping to clear land. Louis Bromfield wrote in his book From My Experience (1955), “To be financially successful at raising hogs primarily requires the ability to think like a hog.” This article covers the basics of keeping pigs and

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Organic Chicken Basics

By Diane Schivera, MAT Introduction The basis for organic livestock production is the development of a harmonious relationship between land, plants, and livestock, and respect for the physiological and behavioral needs of livestock. This is achieved by: Providing good quality organically grown feed Maintaining appropriate stocking rates. Designing husbandry systems adapted to the species’ needs.

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Feeding Whole Grains to Chickens

By Diane Schivera, MAT Introduction Feed is the most expensive portion of the cost of raising chickens, and this expense is magnified by the fact that most folks feed a ground mash or pellet that is formulated and produced by a feed company. In an attempt to reduce this cost, you can feed laying hens

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Orchards

Apple Orchard Activity Calendar for the Northeast

By C. J. Walke Introduction Growing organic tree fruit can be a bit of a challenge, considering the various insects and diseases that like to call your fruit tree home and the relatively short efficacy window of organic control materials; so being attentive to stages of fruit development and biological cycles of pests in your

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Please contact a member of our Farmer Programs team for more information. For information about crops and pests, contact Caleb Goossen. For information about dairy and livestock, contact Jacki Martinez Perkins.

For information & fact sheets on more organic farming topics, visit ATTRA or Cooperative Extension.
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