The farmers at White Barn Farm use absolutely
no herbicides, chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
We use cultural methods, field sanitation, and encouragement of soil/plant health to promote pest resistance. We will rotate the location of crop families to avoid disease transmission. We will sometimes use spun fabric (remay) to cover plants that may otherwise be exposed to pests. We will use kaolin clay, named Surround WP, which looks like a white dust, to deter striped cucumber beetles from skeletonizing plants in the Cucurbit family overnight. It is a natural mineral and does not kill any insects. It washes off in the rain. We do squish bugs by hand, even though we hate the task. It is especially important to scout the potato plants for Colorado Potato Beetle eggs and larvae. We aim to provide diverse habitat (lots of flowers, for example) for a healthy balance of pest and predator insects and to attract pollinators. We have used a certified organic pesticide named Entrust (spinosad) exactly one time to try to bring down our devastating leafminer population. This tiny fly lays groups of tiny oval shaped white eggs on the undersides of spinach, chard, beet, and lamb's quarter leaves. The eggs hatch and a tiny larvae tunnels between the leaf surfaces, rendering spinach and chard completely unmarketable before the larvae decays the leaf tissue enough so that it falls to the soil surface and burrows just below in its puparium state. There it can stay until conditions are right for the fly to emerge again. We've had a huge buildup over the years and in the spring of 2014 we transplanted out hundreds of bedfeet of chard, spinach, and beets only to find that a couple days later there were egg clusters on nearly every plant in the field. We've had complete crop loss in the past due to leafminer. Early greens are really important to the farm and our customers. We hemmed and hawed for a night or two, talked to the UMass Extension agent, and decided we had a very short window in which to possibly knock down the population so that stragglers could be removed by handpicking damaged leaves and destroying them (i.e. feeding to chickens - do NOT put damaged leaves on the ground or in the compost - the larvae inside them must be eaten by a chicken or smooshed or burned or tied tightly in a bag headed for the landfill. If you leave them in the field or put them in the compost the leafminer life cycle continues). We decided to do it. We mixed the Entrust with water and put it in the backpack sprayer, thoroughly sprayed the undersides of the leaves and were able to have an early spring greens harvest. We have not used any sort of pesticides since.
We believe in improving soil with the use of composted vegetable matter, leaves, and animal manure. Occasionally we pick up cow manure from Wright's Dairy Farm. We are careful to either spread this before a cover crop or a crop that will not be harvested for at least four months or we further compost it at the farm. Once in a while we will take a pile of horse manure from a local horse stall after confirming that the animals are not regularly fed antibiotics and/or herbicide laden hay. We use lime to amend soil pH. In some cases it is appropriate to add a certified organic granulated fertilizer (derived from a variety of organic materials). We use North Country Organics Pro-Gro 5-3-4. We also feed plants in the greenhouse and seedlings ready to be transplanted into the field with Neptune's Harvest organic Fish and Seaweed Emulsion, lovingly called "fish sauce" here at the farm. We aim to use green manuring, addition of compost, and cover cropping to maintain and improve soil fertility. Some of our favorite cover crops are Medium Red Clover, Hairy Vetch, Buckwheat, Rye, and a combination of Oats and Peas.
We are not enthusiastic about the use of plastic mulch in organic farming. For the past two years we have grown tomatoes, zucchini, cukes, and melons on biodegradable plastic mulch. The plants do much better, the fruits stay cleaner, the beds have fewer weeds, and the soil is warmed for early plantings.
We buy in straw in order to mulch some of our longer season crops. We like the weed suppression during the growing season, the soil protection it provides over the winter and the organic matter it feeds to the soil life afterwards. We also use leaves collected by our friends at JPK Landscaping and M Kenney Landscaping. Leaves are great for mulching our garlic in the fall and our peas in the spring. We also just let them sit in a pile and break down into beautiful "black gold" or mix them with our farm compost when it needs some more carbon. Green Trees Arbor Care provides us with wood chips, which we use to mix in with manure that needs to be composted, allow to break down on their own, or use for mulching perennial beds.
We hope to adhere to the adage, "cultivate don't weed" when it comes to weed management. We will use stale seedbedding to give our plants and seeds an advantage in the field and then follow up with tractor or hand hoe cultivation. Mulch will be used where appropriate. Carrots will probably be flame-weeded before they emerge. We hope to minimize hand weeding.