A new technical but approachable guide developed by the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) offers small- and medium-scale organic growers valuable information on organic and sustainable seedling production.
The 20-page guide describes how to effectively and efficiently grow vegetable and flower seedlings for organic operations using environmentally responsible practices. It offers an overview of greenhouse structures and basic cultural requirements and environmental management techniques to optimize germination and seedling development. It then addresses topics including soil mixes and containers; seeding and irrigation options; fertility, pest, and disease control; and system efficiencies.
“It is our hope that this guide will help new and existing growers make informed decisions about optimizing greenhouse location and infrastructure options, as well as choosing soil mixes and containers that will work together seamlessly as a production system for your young seedlings,” said Christof Bernau, UCSC Farm Garden manager and lead author of the guide. “Another key component throughout the guide is highlighting system efficiencies that can reduce time and labor costs, while also making effective use of costly inputs. Here again, informed decision making will ideally improve both seedling quality and your bottom line.”
Detailed graphics and numerous photos offer examples of types of greenhouse structures, seedling containers, tools such as vacuum seeders, fertilizer injectors, and irrigation wands and hoses, as well as stages of seedling development and efficient placement or “blocking” of seedlings in the greenhouse to maximize efficient use of space and water. The guide also provides a pest and disease management template that is readily adaptable to the challenges you may be facing in your propagation area.
The Grower Guide is based on organic production practices used at the 30-acre organic farm at UCSC, and although the techniques described—especially those that focus on pest and disease management—are particularly relevant to growers in California, virtually all can be applied to any small- to medium-scale organic operation.
Series Builds on UCSC’s Training Expertise
The new guide on seedling production is the tenth publication in the series of CASFS-produced Grower Guides, all of which are available for free in Spanish or English online and in print.
Six of the guides cover a single crop topic: bush beans, cut flowers, dry-farmed tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and winter squash. Another addresses how to manage “production blocks” of diverse crops for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects and other direct marketing efforts. Two of the guides offer information for use across many crops, including a short guide to tillage and “planting to moisture” techniques that help conserve water and minimize weed growth, and a guide to pest and disease management for crops covered in the other guides.
“The practitioners, educators, and editors at the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems have done it again,” says professor Albie Miles, an expert in organic farmer education who recently launched the University of Hawai’i’s sustainable agriculture program.
“The guides combine clear and concise technical information with engaging graphics and illustrations. These publications make an important contribution to farmer training and technical education in the field of sustainable and organic agriculture,” he said.
Guides Available Online and in Print
The Grower Guide series is available to download for free from the CASFS website. All ten of the guides are available in English as well as Spanish. You’ll also find videos produced by CASFS on organic weed management, incorporating cover crops, and other field production topics.
For more information, or to request printed copies of the Grower Guides, please contact the CASFS at firstname.lastname@example.org or 831-459-3240 (email preferred due to COVID-19 campus closure). Funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Specialty Crop Block Grant program supported development of the series of guides. The Spanish translation of the guides was funded by the Nell Newman Foundation, Organic Valley/CROPP, and CDFA.
This article was written by Erin Foley.
Erin Foley is the editor and communications specialist at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz. CASFS is a research, education, and public service organization dedicated to advancing an ecologically sustainable and socially just food system.