Help with getting your produce sold at the best priceCommunicate with other organic farmersFarming AnnouncementsFarming Business & FinanceNews for Organic FarmersOrganic AquacultureUseful Links

Click to go to Introduction page

Questions & Answers

A growing selection of organic farming tips, gleaned from our listserve and other sources

Join the COABC Listserve

Learning about organic farmingMarketingSoilsVegetable ProductionFruit ProductionBees and beekeepingGrains and Forage ProductionSpecialty CropsGreenhouse ProductionLivestock ProductionOrganic CertificationFarm Animal WelfareOn-Farm Food Safety

Environment Canada - weather by region or city
Environment Canada - weather by region or cityWeather by Region/City

This page is available in POLISH


Q. Any suggestions for controlling cutworms?

  1. Try leaving extra weeds out in the rows.
  2. As they are night feeders if your area is not too large go out with a flashlight and check the plants. You often find them coming out of the soil. When we have infestations we go out early (5am) and dig up the cut off plant, and search in the soil around that plant; time-consuming but does get a considerable number. Often they are not far from the plant and close to the surface.
  3. Our long-term management is to rotate with a green manure crop. We find fields that have grown clover, seeded the previous May or June and cultivated into the soil a minimum of three weeks before planting has no cutworm damage.
  4. Keep the periphery grass well mowed as that is where they like to overwinter.
  5. Keep some chickens or muscovy ducks and let them do the eating.

Q. How do I get rid of quack grass?

  1. Quack grass will take nutrients out of its root system till it gets to its third leaf stage, then it stores nutrients back in its root system. By cultivating the field before it reaches this stage, you will starve the roots. This will also bring the roots to the surface where they will dry out .Do not disk or rotovate the field. This chops the roots in little pieces, each of which could become a new plant
  2. To get quack grass under control, we cultivate, then plant two heavy crops of buckwheat in succession - the buckwheat has an aliopathic effect on the grass. After cutting the second crop in the late summer we plant a crop of winter pea/fall rye. When this is cultivated the following spring, the field is 99% clear of the grass. Remove roots from the growing area. Composting them is an ongoing debate but I prefer not to.
  3. If you want to plant this season, black plastic mulch will effectively smother the quack grass. Some people are experimenting with paper mulch, and it is hoped that this option will be commercially available soon.
  4. If you can wait until next year to plant, I suggest mouldboard ploughing - you need a good plough and competent operator to plough old quack grass sod and get it completely turned over. It should be disced lightly, not deeply. Allow the sod to decompose for one to two months. Just as the quack grass is thinking about re-emerging you can cultivate it deeply to bring the dormant roots up to the surface where they can desiccate. Do this as often as you like (at least every three weeks) throughout the summer and the quack grass should be completely eliminated by the end of the season.
  5. Place bails of straw tight together on thr area and leave it for a year. When you remove the bails you will find that the quack has moved its roots up into the bails and they are burned or otherwise disposed of. Maybe wood chips or other material would work as well.

Q. What is an effective way to kill thistles?

  1. It takes a 20% solution to be effective on thistles and household vinegar is 5% [Editorial Note: Vinegar (acetic acid) as an herbicide has not been identified as an allowable input for BC certified organic production.]
    Evaluation of Acetic Acid as a Thistle Top-killer on Pastures
  2. Cutting Canada thistle off at the lower end of the stem and pouring water in the hollow stem kills the plant by rotting the root system. If you cut before a heavy rain or use a sprinkler I have found this to be fairly effective.

Q. How do I avoid my broccoli bolting?
  1. Plant out early to get size before it turns too hot. The plants size up beautifully in the ascending daylight hours and bolt fairly quickly once the dyas get really hot.
  2. For variety, try the open-pollinated Green Goliath, bought from William Dam Seeds or West Coast Seeds. The central head reaches a good size and the side shoots are tender and prolific.
  3. Plant out seedlings no older than 4-6 weeks. If you have to go longer, use four-inch pots.
  4. Keep on top of taking the smaller buds before they bolt. Prune quite heavily to get good, strong regrowth which gives very nice fall heads.
  5. Build a portable structure, a frame with cardboard over it, and place the frame over the brocoli at about 7 pm and remove it at 7 am, forcing only 12 hours of sunlight. The same frame would retain heat overnight and may lenghten your season. Do this over a small area, leaving a control to see if it makes any difference.

Q. How can I control algae in my pond?
  1. Put barley straw into the pond. When barley straw decomposes in the presence of oxygen it releases an algal inhibitor. It can also get rid of cyanobacteria, diatoms and unicellular green algae in drinking water and in other still waters such as canals. Algal blooms in an average garden pond would only need, say, a small vegetable net of loosely packed barley straw. To make sure the straw has enough oxygen, the net should be kept near the surface or near an inflow or fountain. The effect takes some time to develop - up to three months, depending on temperature - so the straw is best used early in the season to stop the algae growing in the first place. Barley straw based mats are available, preformed and ready to be inserted in pond filtering systems. It does not seem to have any adverse effects on invertebrates or fish.
  2. The powered drumstick (Moringa olifera) seed / drumstick seed powder is a proven pond water floculator and purifier.

Q. How can I get rid of wireworms?
  1. If you have already planted the area, try creating "traps" of chunks of potato or carrot, or balls of moist oatmeal. Bury these several inches deep, and mark them with a flag. Renew your traps frequently to dispose of wireworms and to check on population changes.
  2. If you have not yet planted, consider either very early or very late planting to avoid the warm spring when the wireworms rise to the surface of the soil.
  3. If clearing a new area of sod, it would be wise to consider leaving it exposed to birds and the drying sun during the spring. Following this, planting repellent crops such as mustard or oil radish should be considered. These can be turned under as a green manure.
  4. Don't forget that wireworms are a healthy snack for chickens and pigs, and newly broken sod could be used as a temporary "run" before planting.
  5. If soil temperature and moisture can be monitored, consider purchasing nematodes (
  6. Try planting cole crops, or squash, as they seem to be unpopular with wireworms.
  7. Consider a "sacrifice" crop such as wheat or lettuce, which can be pulled up and disposed of when they become infested.

Q. Should I be adding gypsum to my soil?
  1. Gypsum does occur naturally in soil, and supplies calcium and sulphur. Where it shines as an amendment would be for those who were planting on hardpan, clay, or in boggy soils. Gypsum particles assist in loosening these soils by entering the tiny spaces in the clay or hardpan and allowing air and water to penetrate, eventually permitting a healthier environment for plant roots. It can be surface-applied at any time of year at 50 lbs per 1000 square feet and must be watered into the soil. To achieve a useful result, it must be applied annually for three years. Gypsum is not toxic and does not affect pH. You may have trouble finding gypsum at your local nursery, but it will be "special ordered" if you request it.
  2. Wallboard material, which does in fact contain gypsum, is forbidden for use in organic farms and gardens as it contains heavy metals and fungicides.
  3. Alternatives to curing a soggy or hard soil would be to work in manures, compost and/or soil mulches.

Q. What perennial forage crops do chickens like?
  1. Those suitable for most of Canada include the Elaeagnus family (autumn and Russian olive), Berberis spp (barberry), Robinia pseudoacacia (Black Locust - ground up pods) and Caragana arborescens (Siberian Pea Shrub) and all edible nut-bearing species, although they require finding and cracking the nuts.
  2. Release birds into orchards to eat all types of fallen fruit and also all berries, from the domesticated currant to the wild blackberry, and tree berries such as elderberry, hawthorn, and sumac.
  3. Wild weedy type forages, like chickweed, chicory, clover, stinging nettle, pigweed and shepherds purse.
  4. Short green manures of vetch, buckwheat or winter rye, before you dig them under.
  5. Comfrey and even aromatic herbs like cicely, but remember that, in the latter case, egg flavour may be affected.
  6. Poultry will enjoy scratching through amaranth, barley, millet, quinoa and wheat and will eat sunflowers seeds, once you bring the seed heads down to their level.

Q. Cedar posts – what is their lifespan?

There is a range of lifespans we can expect from cedar posts. Posts taken from older trees rather than young ones (remembering we want to preserve true old growth trees at all costs), posts taken from heartwood rather than sapwood, posts of good girth (the bigger the better) and those that have been set into freely draining ground will all last longer than thin, third cut posts in boggy soil. The minimum from a thin, sapwood post in very damp conditions might be 5 years, the maximum for a good post in good conditions could range up to 24 years.

Q. What alternatives to cedar fence posts comply with organic standards' prohibition on synthetically-treated wood?

In conditions where large posts rot quickly, trimming off the rotten end and pressing the usable portion of the post into metal fence spikes will save you the height of the post and will last nearly forever - but because of their cost (around $14 per spike) should be saved for special situations. Galvanized steel T-posts, available in foot graduations from 5 to 12 feet, are easy to drive between rocks in rocky soil and can be reinforced if major stress is expected (e.g. heavy load bearing). These posts have holes for wire, rivets, insulators or clamps. They are about $6 to $8 per post, and can be interspersed with existing trees and wooden posts to decrease expense. They are easily moved (great for temporary pasture or quick paddock dividers, or in row plant support depending on design), and are still dependable if purchased used. Metal-fatigued old posts can be straightened, reinforced and utilized where they won't be “challenged”. Some farmers use old drilling rig accessories such as drill pipe and sucker rods. These can give you many years of service but will eventually corrode because of their past exposure to water and pressure. “Reject” pipe (not previously used in drilling) has a much longer life.

Q. How can I really get rid of bindweed?

Pull your land out of production for one year (two, tops) and put cows on it. It's their number one most favourite food. Present them with various choices and sweet and juicy bindweed wins every time. They do not like the roots, but they won't let the roots grow too much since at the first sign of a leaf, chomp! When we converted to a dairy operation, I saved the market garden grounds to the very end and finally consigned them to the rotation. Bindweed never thrived again. Now, many years later, there is no sign of it anywhere, except in my house garden, where I refuse to let the cows. I'm seriously considering starting a second garden and letting the calves into the first one.

Q. How can I assure I'm providing a healthy diet for my meat birds?. (I'm seeing problems arising with their legs.)

You're on the right path by using your own observations to ensure the birds are healthy. Keep a good watch and problems will become obvious. A common lack in commercial feeds is protein, and this can lead to the leg deformities you're observing. Meat birds are frequently not scratching, so they're not getting the insects the layers can seek out. On old mixed farms, chickens were offered milk and even meat scraps (chickens are omnivores) and this likely prevented protein deficiencies. Some farmers give an emergency feed of boiled eggs and pea meal to bring their feeds “up to scratch”. They will likely be eager for seed heads as well as commercial grains you may toss in. Offering chickens access to foods other than their straight commercial mix will allow them to seek out the extras they need.

Q. How do I control horsetail?

  1. Not so dreaded a problem if you improve your fertility generally and increase your c. I would certainly compost any you pull as they are an excellent source of silicon, which strengthens plant tissues.
  2. Hoeing regularly will starve the horsetails gradually. Improving the drainage and sweetening the soil (lime) helps too. I don't know how long, how great drainage, or how much lime it would take to totally eliminate them. After nearly 20 years, I still get a few here and there, but not the thick bushy amounts that once ruled. They hoe easily and are not very aggressive, but are persistent.

Q. What's the best way to clean garlic?

  1. Spray-wash right after pulling, single layer deep in an enclosed shed for three weeks, then cut the tops with pruning shears.
  2. Shortly after harvesting, cut the roots off somewhat short, being careful to leave a short bristle, not a scalped base, and peel a leaf or two off (leaving about five if possible. Hang them in bundles in a shed, in the shade and out of the rain, but with plenty of air movement. Then cure for as many weeks as possible and, before it gets too wet in the fall, cut off the bulbs, give the roots a brush to get rid of the dirt, and sort and bag them for short-term storage. They store considerably better with their tops on, but they take up a lot of room. Soft-top garlic store even better, and are easy to braid, too.
  3. It depends on many factors such as soil type, cultivar, late or early harvesting etc. There really isn't one answer as some cultivars have thick skin and some not. Late harvesting gives thinner skins as it 'cures' somewhat in the ground. It is almost whatever works for your farm. Try a few other ways to see what works. One grower gets good results peeling, removing tops and roots at harvest, then drying in a large forced air dryer.

Q. How do I get rid of a hill of red ants?

  1. Mix 1 cup icing sugar and 1 cup borax soap powder; stomp on the hill; pour the mixture; run like the wind; repeat, using the sugar to attract them, then stomp on the hill and pour straight borax; what is left of the colony will walk through and track the borax back home to kill the others. Repeat until they are gone. The borax will act as a soil sterility agent. If this is a concern I suggest using boiling water if the hill is not too big. If it is, you might consider using acetic acid instead. Borax (a boric acid salt) is not acceptable as a pest control tool in direct contact with organic food or crops under organic standards.
  2. To move red ants using a shovel: Divide hill into three smaller ones within two feet of each other. Three days later, put a shovel full of the first hill on the second, then a shovel of the second on the third, then a shovel of the third on the first. And then wait for the ensuing "ant war" to eradicate all the ants. I have used this technique before. It works very quickly.
  3. Include the hill in a chicken run. They will completely and happily get rid of the whole nest.

Q. What is the impact on foodstuffs of security scanning?

  1. None of our imported organic products are subjected to checks using Mobile Vacis (scanning) units. These units are not used at truck crossings since all of these loads are visually inspected (most of our imported products are shipped via trucks). Organic products that are shipped/flown in container loads are also not exposed to gamma radiation from Vacis instruments since these loads are opened, visually inspected and split up into smaller loads for redistribution to various destinations.

Q. How do I save pea seeds?

  1. As long as it's open-pollinated, wait till the pods are dry, or if your frost comes sooner, and they're most of the way there, just pull off the plant and put in a paper bag to dry. Then put in a cool, dark, dry place until hard, shell and use for seed.

Q. How do I get my chickens to lay in their nests?

  1. Place some eggs in the boxes which have a good layer of hay and/or dry wood shavings. Then keep the hens in the coop for two or three days (of course with light, feed and water).
  2. It also has something to do with the breed of bird.

Q. Is egg washing necessary?

There is no specific regulation that suggests a clean egg from a clean nest must be washed. Obviously, eggs free of manure, straw and feathers are the goal - stained or cracked eggs cannot be sold. Clean eggs are maintained by changing fouled nesting material often, gathering eggs several times a day, and by not packing your dirty eggs with the clean ones in your basket. Make sure your chickens have enough boxes that they are not encouraged to lay on the floor. Inevitably, there will be eggs that require cleaning and this should be done as soon as you collect them. First, see if a gentle rub with a clean plastic nail brush will bring success. If your stains remain and you need to wash your eggs, be sure to use hot, potable water. The water must be 43 - 49°C (almost intolerable to the touch) or at least 10 degrees warmer than the egg itself. The hot water will expand the egg contents so that microbe contamination from the wash water will not pass into the egg. Wash the eggs quickly, one by one, in the hot water. If that isn't sufficient, dip them into a food grade sanitizer such as non-synthetic sodium carbonate (soda ash) and sodium bicarbonate (baking ash), sodium hydroxide (lye or caustic soda) or hydrogen peroxide. If you are an organic producer, be sure the brand name sanitizer is acceptable to your certification body. Let the eggs dry completely before refrigeration. The benefits of keeping the nests clean will soon become abundantly clear!

Q. Are feedlot manures okay to use on organic farms?

  1. There is an abundance of feedlot manure being disposed of and we are sometimes tempted by the low price to use it. However, we must take into account that today's commercial manures may (and probably do) contain invisible but counterproductive ingredients. EU regulations prohibit the use of manure originating from factory farms, such as battery chickens, even if composted. Although BC Organic Standards still permit fully-composted manures from any source, the grower must consider whether residues of antibiotics, GMOs, hormones or pesticides may still reside in these products. Manures from an organic source are worth seeking out for the peace of mind they bring. They have the added advantage that they can be used raw on non-food crops (for example, before green manures are planted), which is prohibited in the case of non-organic source manures.
  2. Growers should also remember that manures are not the be-all and end-all, and that complete success can be had with green manure crops, application of compost (from organic sources) and organic meals and minerals. As an example of nutrients available in local plants, please note that while cow manure averages at 11-3-9, Canada thistle measures in at 54-13-82. (from The Fertile Soil, by Robert Parnes).

Q. How do I determine a fair rent/lease value for farmland?
  1. Normally rents and lease costs are set by "the market". Usually this means so that one or both can make as much profit as possible.
  2. Another way is to see what each party feels is fair and resonable, and see if they can agree. Mostly it takes each party to look at the benefits they will gain and the costs that they will sustain in the deal.
  3. Organic growing depends on feeding the soil, which always is a long-term project. A short lease doesn't greatly encourage this. Longer terms can, and lease or rental agreements can specify conditions to make it more likely.
  4. The owner benefits in the long term (unless she is waiting for a shopping mall or condo development); the grower benefits in medium terms; nobody benefits in short terms. What other infrastructure will the renter have to provide? Fencing? Weed control? Irrigation system? Will these be useful to the renter or the landowner after the agreement ends?
  5. Will the landowner gain a property tax benefit? Can the rent be paid in produce, rather than cash? What are the goals and needs of the owner? Of the renter? Can they be met to the benefit of both?
  6. I would recommend a longer than one year agreement, with provision for both shortening and lengthening it. Some sort of rolling agreement might work, so that the renter has assurance that she can harvest the crops she plants.
  7. Something like ten or twelve months notice of termination, with provision for compensation if less is given might work for growers of annual crops and the landowner. Ideally, any agreement should start out with all parties feeling good about it, and have provisions to make it likely and possible that this continues.
  8. But the agreement should also have a divorce settlement clause, that sets out what will happen if everything goes wrong. This might include mediation or arbitration, or just a period of notice that both parties will abide by. Anything is cheaper than engaging lawyers and going to court.

Q. How can I get rid of large patches of poison ivy?

With some difficulty but, when push comes to shove, here are some pointers:
  1. Avoid contact at all costs: Dress carefully and consider spraying your boots and gloves (before and after) with a 10% solution of sudsy ammonia. Tape around glove/sleeve, and boot/pants "interface". Disposable gloves under a set of leather gloves is also advised, as well as eye protection.
  2. Timing: May or June, when plant's in flower and seed isn't ripe for spreading.
  3. Execution options (no guarantees!):
    a) Chop the greens down then cover area with black plastic weighed down with rocks;
    b) Cover with very heavy biodegradable mulch and interplant for the first year or two.
  4. Blisters: Lots of soap with cold water. Apply one or more of: drinking or rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil, mashed jewel weed, mashed young dock leaves, oatmeal paste, aloe vera, goldenseal, black tea bags, diluted tincture of chickweed, yarrow, plantain, (which can be used in the eye area), honey.
  5. Aftermath: Remove clothing carefully and wash separately with lots of detergent. Disinfect all tools used with rubbing alcohol, dry, oil metal parts to prevent rust.

Q. How do I handle blossom end-rot on my tomatoes?

This is the result of calcium deificiency usually the result of calcium building up elsewhere than in the fruit. This is often caused by root and water uptake malfunction or irrigation problems. If foliar feed hasn't helped, check the roots for rot and your irrigation system for malfunction or plants allowed to dry out. The deficiency could also be caused by insufficient transpiration in a very humid greenhouse. The condition will spread through a plant. Remove damaged small fruit but leave larger fruit until harvest, to avoid upsetting the balance of fruit load on crop growth.

Q. How can I avoid or manage garlic rust?

Garlic rust is not carried on the heads or cloves, so you don't need to worry about introducing the disease to your crop by planting them; peeling the cloves thoroughly before planting might be enough to remove if any contaminants present. Garlic rust is a fungal disease, spread by the wind. When the conditions (high humidity and cooler temperatures) are right (for the rust) it quickly grows and makes yellow/orange spores that spread to other nearby allium plants, quickly turning them rusty, and severely limiting growth and development. Then the rust makes a dark (black) spore that is much more long-lasting. It can survive the winter , and can stay in the soil and around your garden or farm. But it can also spread "trans-oceanic" distances on the wind. The advice is to burn or bury (at least two feet deep) infected plant material or properly (hot) compost - the tops and leaves of garlic or leek or onion plants that have been infected. Don't leave it around, especially if it has grown the black spores. You can grow garlic (and other alliums) in future years, but for infected fields, at least 2-3 year crop rotation with non-allium crops is highly recommended. It's best to do what you can to keep them from staying moist and hospitable to rust by planting them in more open areas, where the wind can dry the plants more quickly. I've gradually been increasing the spacing between plants, and making sure that there are not taller crops or other plants next to the garlic. You can continue to rotate your garlic beds as usual. Some varieties of garlic are more susceptible to rust than others. I grow three main varieties - Chinese Pink, Montana Giant and a Rocambole type. The Chinese Pink normally matures in mid June, and has never had anything more than an extremely small amount of rust. This year, Montana Giant was quite badly infected and affected. The Rocambole type not so badly, even though I harvested it last. The rust will spread to your leeks, so do what you can to keep it from forming on your garlic, or from spreading around if you do get it.

Back to top of page

Extension Agent ‘Dear Rochelle’ BC Organic Grower Articles
- Blister Beetles – good or bad? (Sep 07/pdf)
- Manure Requirements in the New National Standards (Jan 2008/pdf)
- Coping with Grasshoppers (Apr 2008/pdf)
- Organic Chickens and Rodents (Jun 2008/pdf)
- Seeds: Organic or not Organic that is the question (Sep 08/pdf)
- The Four Amendments (Jan 09/pdf)
- Principles (CAN/CGSB-32.310) Amendments with Impacts (Jan 09/pdf)
- PSL (CAN/CGSB-32.311) Amendments with Impacts (Jan 09/pdf)
- Garlic to my Sheep (Apr 09/pdf)
- Soil testing (Jun 09/pdf)
- Weed Control (Sep 09/pdf)
- Organic Extension Services (Mar 2010/pdf)
- To test or not to test? (Jun 2010/pdf)
- Organic Tidbits: Using OMRI Listed products, accessory nutrients, Hydro pole buffers etc (Sept 2010/pdf)

Rochelle Eisen, extension officer for COABCRochelle Eisen P.Ag has been employed by the BC organic sector since 1989, completing over 4000 assorted inspections and delivering extensive horticultural educational outreach throughout the South Okanagan. Rochelle is active on the federal Organic Standards scene. Until October, 2010 she was engaged as BC's Organic Extension Agent, helping the BC organic community grow and mature.


If you have a question, send it in and we'll put it to our panel.

Original material in this website may be reproduced in any form without permission, on condition that it is accredited to Cyber-Help for Organic Farmers, with a link back to this site or, in the case of printed material, a clear indication of the site URL. We would appreciate being notified of such use. Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this web site, Cyber-Help for Organic Farmers does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy thereof. Anyone using the information does so at their own risk and shall be deemed to indemnify Cyber-Help for Organic Farmers, from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.

Click here to go to JN Web Design site