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Organic farm at Utah State celebrates season’s end with Pumpkin Days

Story and photos by Katherine Larsen

LOGAN — What began with mud finished with mud as the Utah State University Organic Farm celebrated the end of the growing season with Pumpkin Days. While some participants took shelter from the rain under tarps to listen to local bands and drink hot chocolate on Saturday, others ventured out into the rain to gather pumpkins and other produce ready for harvest.

Organic pumpkins wait for adoption. Photo by Katherine Larsen.

“Our shares have been really successful,” said Tracey Munson, the farm’s manager. “It’s kind of hard to harvest everything during school because there is so much produce.”

The harvest was better than last year’s and accumulated approximately $2,000 in profit for on-campus sales, which is $500 more than last year’s, said former farm manager Nathan Staker. “We still have a couple weeks that we have to be selling,” Staker said. “We have pumpkins that we are going to be selling up there (on USU campus) this year.”

Although this year’s harvest was a success on campus, lack of snow and dry conditions early in the year lead to some dried-out crops, Munson said.

“I’m sure there are things that would have gotten bigger had there been more water, like our carrots,” he said. “Our last batch of carrots were pretty small, and had they gotten more water, they would have been bigger.”

Getting crops to grow big and within season can be a challenge, Staker said, considering that organic farms are not allowed to use any fertilizers that contain chemicals.

This year’s harvest is bountiful. Photo by Katherine Larsen.

“The produce tends to take two to four weeks longer than if you were to use fertilizer,” Staker said. “For our farm, I’d say that it’s two weeks later because we use cover crops, plants that are high in nitrogen, that we will fill into the field that gives up that nitrogen. So right out in the field you’ll see that green colored grass? That’s called winter wheat. There’s other implements that we can use if we see plants are struggling, one of which is bone meal, an organic fertilizer, and there’s also fish fertilizer.”

Yet an even bigger concern for this year’s crops was heat waves, Staker said.

A scarecrow watches over Pumpkin Days. Photo by Katherine Larsen.

“I really wasn’t concerned about drought weather,” Staker said. “What caused concern for me was if we were going to have the hot heat waves again. We had a lot of crops last year that really didn’t care for it and struggled through the heat, so I was concerned about that.”

Fortunately, heat waves were not a problem this year. In fact, all the moisture from the summer contributed to a tomato harvest that was more than a month later than expected, Staker said.

“With all the rain we’ve had this year, instead of being ripe at the first of August, they were ripe at maybe the third week of September,” Staker said. “I mean we’ve had a lot, but the numbers we were predicting weren’t what we were hitting till the end of September.”

The numbers for each crop harvested are carefully recorded, Munson said, due to organic farm regulations. “We have to keep detailed records,” he said. “To be certified we have to show them where everything is planted in our field. We have this grid so we know where each section is and what’s in each section. Every time we harvest something, we have say what location we got that from. We also have to record our watering schedule and show that we are using our own pesticides.”

There is only one type of pesticide that the farm uses, Munson said. “The only thing that we used this year is NoLo bait,” Munson said, “which is a thing that grasshoppers eat which ruins their appetite. Which is kind of morbid, because it makes it so the grasshoppers don’t eat so they die.”

Yet the experience of managing an organic farm can be ‘dreamy,’ Munson said.

“You would work from 6 a.m. to noon,” Munson said. “You would wake up and see the sun rise every day over the mountain. So it’s pretty quiet and it gives you time to think as you harvest. It’s just relaxing.”

NW