STOCKSCH 297V – Organic Vegetable Production


Organic Vegetable Production

Instructor: Renee Ciulla                                       Contact:

Description of course

reneeBy the end of this 15-week course, students will understand that successful organic vegetable production relies on more than producing vegetables; it requires managing money, people, and natural resources effectively. The lessons and reading material provide an overview of cultural practices for vegetables, pest, disease, and weed control, greenhouse production and construction, irrigation practices, as well as harvesting and marketing techniques.

Three weeks are devoted to researching specifics related to growing common vegetables. At the end of the course, students reach out to farms of their choice to learn first-hand about some of the issues faced and possible solutions.

The final project is a detailed research assignment based on one of the topics reviewed during the semester (students can choose from a list of options).  Throughout the semester students should be thinking about their personal interest within the organic vegetable field and pursue this topic during the final two weeks.

 Course Structure

At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a weekly summary list of  the work to be completed during each respective week of class. There will be a Discussion Question that students will post responses to in the “chat” section of Blackboard.  These responses are due by 11:59pm on the Sunday of that week.

Required Readings are also listed with questions that assist students to prepare for Quizzes. Four scheduled quizzes will be given during the semester.

The Final Research Project will be chosen from a list of options and culminate in an in-depth paper. Exceptions for research topics not on the list can be made with instructor’s permission.


  • Class Participation: 25%
  • Discussion Assignments: 25%
  • Homework Assignments: 25%
  • Final Project: 25%

Outline of Content

Week One – The Historical and Current Context of “Organic”

  • What is organic? In comparison, what’s conventional production?
  • Timeline of organic agriculture development:
  • Current key players
  • Overview of agroecology principles, biodynamic agriculture and permaculture
  • Organic certification

Week Two – Organic Vegetable Production Basics 

  • Vegetable Families
  • Compost
  • Crop rotation
  • Cover Crops
  • Companion planting

 Week Three – Cultural Practices for Vegetables

  • Choosing seed, heirlooms vs. hybrid, storing seed, sowing seed
  • Seed and seed production in organic farming systems
  • Cultivation techniques and tools
  • Understanding Soils, Soil Tests and Soil Problems
  • Guidelines for Organic Fertilization
  • Crop Scheduling & Estimating Vegetable Yields

Week Four – Pest, Disease & Weed Control:

  • Weed management (hand weeding, mechanical and biological weed control methods)
  • Integrated Pest Management (Non-chemical pest control)
  • Plant Pathology introduction
  •  Insect Disease management
  • Weed managemen
  • Wildlife Damage Management

 Week Five – Pest, Disease & Weed Control (PART II)

  • Review of common diseases, pests and weeds
  • Weeds
  • Weed Identification Guide
  • Weed changes from conventional tillage to no-till

Week Six – Greenhouse and cold frame production

  • Overview of season extension principles and techniques
  • Components of a greenhouse system (materials)
  • Video: overview of tunnel production and how to construct
  • Sustainable Season Extension: Considerations for Design:
  •  Ledgewood Greenhouses
  • Types of greenhouses and greenhouse designs
  •  Greenhouse funding
  • Cold Frames (Eliot Coleman):
  • Season extension sources

      Week Seven   Vegetable transplant production

  • Culture
  • Selecting Fertility & Media Sources for Organic Greenhouse Vegetables

Week Eight – Growing Legumes (Beans, Broad Beans, Peas)

  •  Growing Brassicas (Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Pak Choi, Broccoli, Kale, Turnip
  • Please refer to Cornell Guide for recommended varieties, fertility needs, diseases, insects and weed management

 Week Nine Growing Lettuce, Onions, & Root Crops (Carrots, Radish, Parsnip, Beets)

  • Growing Curcurbits (Cucumber, Pumpkin, Squash)
  • Please refer to Cornell Guide for recommended varieties, fertility needs, diseases, insects and weed management

Week Ten – Growing Solanaceae (Potatoes, Eggplant,  Peppers and Tomatoes)

  •  Tomatoes (greenhouse and in field)
  •  Field Production of Tomatoes
  •  Management of non-pathogenic fruit disorders of tomato
  •  Please refer to Cornell Guide for recommended varieities, fertility needs, diseases, insects and weed management

Week Eleven – Irrigation

    • The objective of irrigation
    • Flood, Sprinkler and Trickle irrigation
    •  Understanding soil moisture
    •  Transpiration and Wilting Point
    •  When to irrigate (timing)
    • Detecting water deficiency or excess
    • Improving Drainage
    • Managing erosion
    • Maintaining Drip Irrigation for Vegetables
    • Overview of Key Components

Week Twelve – Harvest & Post-Harvest

  •  Introduction to harvesting & storing
  •  Cooling harvested produce
  •  Harvest and post-harvest handling:

 Week Thirteen – Marketing Vegetables

  •  Standards for cost efficiency, quality and quantity
  •  Options for Marketing Produce (CSAs, farmers markets, wholesale, restaurants)
  • Specialty Crops for Cold Climates
  •  Market Research
  •  Marketing in Organic Production

 Week Fourteen – Study profiles of experienced vegetable growers (some might share budgets for crops) as well as their solutions for pest, disease and weed issues and various marketing techniques. Please peruse the websites provided as well as researching other diversified vegetable farms throughout the USA and the world. Email or call them with specific questions (at least 15) that you are to submit along with their answers.

    • Cate Farm:
    • Tracies Community Farm
    • Red Fire Farm
    • Food Bank Farm
    • Enterprise Farm
    • Angelic Organics
    • Dirty Girl Produce

 Week Fifteen – Final Project:

  • Please choose a topic and complete an 8-10 page research paper (double-spaced) with at least 15 sources (not all web-based but also several academic, peer-reviewed articles). All topics must be approved by instructor.

To register for this class go to UMass Online

This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate Program.  A UMass Certificate may be earned by the successful completion of 15 credits of approved courses in this series.  For information, contact Dr. John M. Gerber at;  Or learn about other online courses offered as part of the Sustainable Food and Farming certificate and B.S. degree program.