Organic Farming and Gardening Skills and Practices

Feed the soil to feed the plant” is a basic principle of organic farming and gardening. This unit introduces students to the ways that farmers and gardeners develop and maintain soil health and fertility in organic farming systems.

Two lectures describe the objectives and components of soil health management and the various practices used to develop and maintain healthy, fertile soil. Supplements offer an overview of the soil ecosystem, and address the way that sustainable soil management practices can combat the environmental and social problems created by soil erosion.

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Note that this unit introduces and integrates a number of topics, including tillage and cultivation, composting, cover cropping, and irrigation, which are addressed in detail in subsequent units. It should be emphasized throughout the lectures that the overall goal of a soil health management program is to balance nutrient inputs and outputs and ensure a good balance of nutrients for the crop.

This balance requires a complex mix of soil management activities including proper tillage, irrigation, crop residue management, weed management, and crop rotation planning. Neglecting any of these components can compromise soil health and quality, affect crop performance, and create potential pollution problems due to erosion, nutrient runoff or leaching.

Organic System Plan: The NOP requires that all crop, wild crop, livestock, and handling operations requiring certification submit an organic system plan to their certifying agent and, where applicable, the State organic program (SOP). The organic system plan is a detailed description of how an operation will achieve, document, and sustain compliance with all applicable provisions in the OFPA/NOP.

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The certifying agent must concur that the proposed organic system plan fulfills the requirements. The organic system plan is the forum through which the producer or handler and certifying agent collaborate to define, on a site-specific basis, how to achieve and document compliance with the requirements of organic certification. See the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) website, for additional details of Organic System Plan requirements

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