Organic Vegetable Production



September 3 – December 11, 2019

Instructor: Renee Ciulla Bio Contact:

No textbook is required for this course

Course Overview and Objectives

By the end of this 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. Furthermore, 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 list of all the work to be completed during the week of class. There will be Discussion Questions which students will post responses to in the “discussion forum” section of Blackboard. These responses are due by midnight on the Thursday of that module’s week. To receive full Discussion credit for the week, students are also required to comment on at least on peer’s post by Sunday at midnight. Required Readings are listed with weekly required Homework questions which are due at midnight on Sunday of each week. 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 the instructor’s permission.


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

Outline of Content

Topic One
The Historical and Current Context of “Organic”
What is organic? In comparison, what’s conventional production?
Examples of key players
Overview/differences of agroecology principles, biodynamic agriculture and permaculture
Organic certification

Topic Two
Vegetable Families
Soil Organic Matter
Plant Nutrient Functions and Deficiency Symptoms
Crop rotation
Cover Crops
Companion planting
No-till and reduced tillage

Topic Three
Cultural Practices for Vegetables
Choosing seed, heirlooms vs. hybrid
Organically produced seed (Organic Seed Treatments and Coatings)
Fundamentals of Soil Fertility
Understanding Soils, Soil Tests and Soil Problems
Crop Production Budgets

Topic Four
Organic Weed Management and Control Methods
Weed Ecology
Common Weeds
Wildlife Damage Management (Deer, Woodchucks, etc)

Topic Five
Pest & Disease Control
Plant Pathology Introduction
Integrated Pest Management (Definition and techniques)
Natural Enemies in Organic Farming Systems

Topic Six
Greenhouse production and season extension
Overview of season extension principles and techniques
Materials of a High Tunnel & Greenhouse Construction
Overview of tunnel production (types of tunnels, common problems, disease management and how to construct a low-cost tunnel)
USDA NRCS Greenhouse funding
Vegetable transplant production
Growing Media for Greenhouse Production
Sustainable Commercial Greenhouse Production

Topic Seven
Growing Legumes (Beans, Broad Beans, Peas)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control

Growing Brassicas (Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control

Growing Curcurbits (Cucumber, Pumpkin, Squash)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control

Topic Eight
Growing Lettuce
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control

Growing Corn
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control

Carrot family – Apiaceae (Carrot, Celery, Parsley)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control

Beetroot family – Chenopodiaceae (Swiss chard, beets, spinach)
-Review varieties, soil fertility, planting, harvest, weed control, insect control, disease control

Topic Nine
Onion family – Alliaceae (Garlic, onions, leeks and shallots)
Growing Garlic
Growing Shallots
Solanaceae Family (Potatoes, Eggplant, Peppers and Tomatoes)
Growing Potatoes
Growing Peppers
Growing Eggplant
Field Production of Tomatoes
Organic Greenhouse Production of Tomatoes
Management Diseases of Organic Tomatoes in Greenhouses and High Tunnels
Management of non-pathogenic fruit disorders of tomato
Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production
Growing Asparagus

Topic Ten
Estimating soil moisture
Overview of flood, drip and spray irrigation methods
Details for center-pivot spray irrigation system
General Irrigation Guidelines, Trickle or Drip Irrigation and Running the System
Understanding Irrigation Management Factors (Type of Soil, Water-Holding Capacity, Evapotranspiration, Rooting Depth, Irrigation, Tools to Evaluate Soil Moisture)
Overview of Furrow Irrigation
Designing a Basic PVC Home Garden Drip Irrigation System
Drip-irrigation systems for small conventional and organic vegetable farms
Using rainwater for irrigation in a high tunnel
Irrigation Energy

Topic Eleven

Harvest & Post-Harvest
Quality in relation to marketability of vegetables
Influence of Pre-harvest Factors on Post-harvest Quality
Post-harvest Handling For Organic Crops
Respiration and Ethylene and their Relationship to Post-harvest Handling
Approved Chemicals for Use in Organic Post-harvest Systems
Pre-cooling and Storage Facilities
Specialty Crops for Cold Climates

Marketing Vegetables
USDA Economic Research Service Organic Sales and Market Overview
Conducting Market Research Using Primary Data
Plan for Marketing Your Organic Products
Find Buyers, Sell Online, Source and Buy Product
Direct Marketing with Value-Added Products

Topic Twelve
Study profiles of experienced vegetable growers. Some of them might share their crop budgets as well as solutions for pest, disease and weed issues and marketing techniques.
Please peruse the websites provided OR research other diversified vegetable farms throughout the USA and/or world. This week you can clarify your questions while speaking with farmers as well as beginning to research your topic deeper.

Topic Thirteen
Final Project: Please choose a topic from the following list and complete an 8-10 page research paper (double-spaced, font-size 12 point) with at least 15 sources (not all web-based but also several academic, peer-reviewed articles). Please submit a .doc file type named lastname_finalassignment.

These are only ideas and all topics must be approved by instructor.

  1. Outline the major weeds faced by vegetable farmers in a particular region and what steps can be taken to organically manage them (or focus on one or two and go very in-depth).
    2. Describe the most common diseases faced by organic vegetable farmers in a particular region and what steps can be taken to manage them following organic principles.
    3. Research various pests faced by farmers and what steps can be taken to biologically control them.
    4. Choose one of the issues presented to you by a farmer you spoke with or that you know, and research possible solutions (storage, CSA inefficiency, extreme dry or humid conditions, lack of consumer education, etc).
    5. Season extension! Which vegetables are best for which regions and what can we do to increase the growing efficiency of providing local vegetables year-round despite cold winter temperatures?

Academic Honesty

No form of cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or facilitating of dishonesty will be condoned in the University community. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to:

  • Cheating – intentional use or attempted use of trickery, artifice, deception, breach of confidence, fraud and/or misrepresentation of one’s academic work
  • Fabrication – intentional and unauthorized falsification and/or invention of any information or citation in any academic exercise
  • Plagiarism – knowingly representing the words or ideas of another as one’s own work in any academic exercise. This includes submitting without citation, in whole or in part, prewritten term papers of another or the research of another, including but not limited to commercial vendors who sell or distribute such materials
  • Facilitating dishonesty – knowingly helping or attempting to help another commit an act of academic dishonesty, including substituting for another in an examination, or allowing others to represent as their own one’s papers, reports, or academic works

Sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the course instructor as soon as possible. Formal definitions of academic dishonesty, examples of various forms of dishonesty, and the procedures which faculty must follow to penalize dishonesty are contained in the Academic Honesty Policy.


This class fulfills requirements for all three of the online programs offered by the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture in Sustainable Food and Farming: