September 2011
Featured Articles

Gardener Transitions to Certified Organic

Rigorous certification process can take up to 3 years

Sherri Price stands between rows of tomatoes and beans which she is growing organically in “hoop” or tunnel houses. She notes how much fewer the insect and disease populations are in the tunnel houses. Price hopes to become a certified organic gardener within the next three years.

 

Sherri Price is fascinated with organic gardening. That’s why she has set becoming a certified organic grower at the top of her agenda.

But exactly what is organic gardening?

Authorities on the subject say organic gardening means not using synthetic products, including commercial pesticides and fertilizers. It’s also more, like feeding depleted soil with composted plants; it’s planting legumes to add nitrogen to an area where heavy nitrogen-feeding plants are to be grown.

To guide her in making the switch from conventional to organic gardening, Price sought and received help from the DeKalb Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) Program.

According to Drew Wright, soil conservationist with NRCS, the first priority in helping Price was getting a transition plan developed to guide her in learning the ropes of organic gardening.

"Because we wanted her acclimation to organic to be systematic and effective, we contracted with a professional service knowledgeable of organic gardening to develop the transition plan for Ms. Price," Wright said. "The transition plan details actions for Price to take on her way to becoming a certified organic gardener, a process projected to take up to three years."

 

Drew Wright, DeKalb Natural Resources Conservation Service in Rainsville, and Sherri Price, a Fyffe gardener, harvest cucumbers and squash Price grew organically this gardening season. Growing fruits and vegetables without the use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides is a passion with Price. According to Price, organically grown vegetables offer many health advantages.

"I’m excited about my big experiment," Price said.

She noted, before she implements the practices recommended in her transition plan, she tried to research and learn as much background information as she could. The plan identified a host of references for her use.

"I must be an avid student," Price said. "It’s all fun, and I like challenges."

Price’s adventure in organic gardening actually began about two years ago when she purchased a small greenhouse in which she grew vegetable plants from seed to transplant size. Because her "green thumb" and gardening brought her so much satisfaction, when she read a particularly intriguing piece about organic gardening, she contacted District Conservationist Jerry Wisener of NRCS about how she could procure "hoop houses," or tunnel houses, a type of greenhouse, in which she could grow her vegetable crops. Approved for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Price launched her organic operation and is currently beginning to harvest her first organic crop. She is thrilled with her outcomes.

Price noted vegetable plants grow faster in the controlled environment of tunnel houses. Her tomato vines have grown beyond the bounds of her stakes and are more heavily loaded with fruit than she ever imagined.

A big advantage of tunnel production is fewer insects and diseases, but when she did have insect infestations, she sprayed with a mixture of tobacco and natural soap. Routinely she picked insects from her plants by hand.

Price was anxious to learn about marketing organic produce. She envisioned selling locally from her home or peddling her produce initially. But when her volume justifies it, she plans to sell through the produce markets near larger cities. Organically grown vegetables command a 15-20 percent price premium, according to Price.

Right now, her production features tomatoes, peppers, beans, beets, corn, potatoes, squash and cucumbers plus all kinds of herbs including oregano, basil, sage, parsley and cilantro. However, in the future, Price sees herself adjusting crop types to what the market demands.

For fertilizers, Price uses plant compost, blood/bone meal and horse manure. She is irrigating her crops with water from a well, thus eliminating the presence of chlorine.

"As I share my newly-acquired knowledge and skills about organic gardening, I hope to help educate my associates and patrons on the many health advantages associated with organically grown crops," Price enthusiastically concluded.

For more information on being certified organic contact: Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, P.O. Box 18782, Huntsville, AL 35804; phone 256-751-3925 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..