PANEL 2 Organic Farming Techniques and Season Extension Technologies
Ruth Hazzard – University of Massachusetts Extension, researcher in integrated pest management, vegetable cropping, and extension strategies
Jolie Olivetti – Victory Programs’ ReVision Urban Farm project.
Jessie Banhazl – Founder of Green City Growers, a social enterprise
Patti Moreno – Creator and host of gardengirltv.com, one of the “top urban gardening websites in the US”
The panelists, after introducing themselves, directly solicited audience questions. Below is a summary (not transcript) of the exchange.
Q: Can you talk about soil testing in urban environments?
Jessie – we send ours to UMass, where they do lead testing and other sorts of testing for us.
Julie – Please see “Good Gardening Practices” for ways to grow safely in urban environments. You only need to protect the soil if you are raising crops for consumption, for example, and in that case you’d most likely do a raised bed.
Q: How do you heat a high tunnel with compost?
Jessie – see Growing Power for a great example of this.
Julie – Will Allen, in addition to lining the outside edges of the hoophouses with compost, puts wood chips on the ground which eventually start composting themselves as well. The problem with this model is that you need a lot of compost, including high nitrogen sources like animal waste. Will Allen raises goats for this purpose among others, but not all urban farms can raise goats for a variety of reasons.
Julie – Composting also has drawbacks – see Bruce Fulford’s 1986 report from the New Alchemy Institute (here) for a discussion of the pros and cons.
Ruth – sometimes you might even run into the problem of adding excess nitrates to your soil using compost, so you ought to test the levels to make sure you’re in an acceptable range.
Q: Can you elaborate on season extending technology and the specific cost/benefit analysis of them? What is the cost of making them versus the expended increase in income?
Patti: Check out my website for some information about this. With coldframes, we’re finding that for a half acre farm, we can harvest an additional 50 lbs at the beginning of a season and 50lbs at the end of a season. (Beginning of December and end of March). That’s around 700-800 additional dollars in revenue. Hoophouse kits using clear plastic sheeting are about 2000 dollars each.
Ruth: You can apply for an NRCS grant to mitigate some of the costs of greenhouse/hoophouse construction. Several hundred hoophouses in the area have been constructed as a result of this.
Q: How do you feel about soil barriers in a raised bed?
Jessie: We use landscape fabric and hardware cloth (thick chicken wire essentially).
Patti: We use ¾ inch gravel, 3-4 inches of it. It helps to hold in the moisture on hot days.
Q: Can you elaborate on the bureaucratic red tape you’ve had to deal with?
Jessie: A lot of it you just have to deal with as the time comes. If you’re worried about possible regulation, I think you should just go for it (build your urban farm). If the government slaps you on the wrist, you can figure it out when the time comes.
Q: What about indoor aquaponics and other technologies that can grow year round? Shouldn’t we switch to these?
Jessie: I wouldn’t discount outdoor growing just yet. We’re still figuring out ways to do it.
Q: How do you keep starts warm without unheated greenhouses?
Patti: Agritape is one sort of cheap heating pad. I’d recommend it.
Q: How do you manage pests while also trying to create an ideal temperature zone for your crops?
Ruth: Most problems stem from high humidity. You want to dry out your greenhouse each day.
Jolie: Cooking or freezing will kill a lot of stuff, as well as rotating different sorts of crops throughout the year. Aphids are a big perennial problem. You can release ladybugs and predatory wasps, but the important strategy is to always observe carefully. Coldframes will lock in aphids in the winter months. Look for eggs and remove them, especially under the leaves. If you can get kids to go around and crush them and their eggs, that helps a lot.
Ruth: The principle of IPM is to get in early, before it escalates into a large problem.