Seed Beds: Bare-Root, Field-Grown Brassica Transplant Production


Martin and I recently visited Nash’s Organic Produce Farm in Sequim-Dungeness Valley and had a conversation with organic farmer Nash Huber about the use of Seed Beds to grow bare-root transplants for brassica crops. Both our farms produced high quality bare-root transplants at a fraction of the cost and labor of greenhouse grown transplants.

Bare-root red cabbage transplant ready for planting

Bare-root red cabbage transplant ready for planting

Pre-1970s it was common practice to produce cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, onions, tomatoes and peppers as bare root transplants in hot-beds, the garden, or in the field. Bare-root plants were also grown in the south and shipped to northern growers.

Seedbed of organic broccoli bare-root transplants

Seedbed of organic broccoli bare-root transplants

Martin and I grew about $200,000 worth of cabbage and broccoli annually from bare-root transplants that were started outside weekly in seedbeds from May 1 to mid-July. This saved us labor and inputs costs and enabled us to manage the farm with significantly less greenhouse space.

When we discussed this with Nash we found we had all learned the technique from old-timer market-gardeners. On both Nash’s and our farm we had developed similar techniques to stale bed with basket weeders for today’s production needs.

As many beginning farmers and gardeners ask me how to grow bare-root transplants (YES! this works at all scales: farmers and gardeners alike), I’m providing a link to a 9-page manual I wrote detailing our seedbed production process.

Happy spring! Soon the soil will warm and it will be seed planting time!


bare-root1 (1 of 1)

140 IH tractor with basket weeder creating stale beds for transplant seeding

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© Atina Diffley 2014


Turn Here Sweet Corn . . . the corn dance



For those of you who have already read Turn Here Sweet Corn, here’s a wild video to supplement your mental image of the Corn Dance. For those of you who haven’t yet read . . . after watching this video of the Pipeline Energizer and The Organic Pheromones, follow the links below.

Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works by Atina Diffley
NOW In Author-Read Audio Book
Paperback, Hardcover and Kindle

What readers are saying . . .

A pair of feisty, dedicated farmers staring down one of the world’s largest companies—and getting Goliath to blink first! This must-read, legal-thriller memoir tells the story of the pipeline case between Koch Industries and Diffley’s Gardens of Eagan Organic Farm. How did a little organic farm succeed in court against Koch? With the support of thousands of informed citizens, expert witnesses, and an organic system plan. By offering a look inside her own experience, and often her own heart, Diffley creates a multifaceted, powerful, and compelling memoir about trying to live organically. — Elizabeth Millard

“As Malena and I sat in bed, listening to the first thwaks of what would end up being a full 20 minutes of hail, all I could think of was the first chapter of your book. This morning began with the phrase, ‘Things are going to bounce back fine… these plants WANT to live.’ Much Love.” — Michale Jacobs, Easy Bean Farm

“Your book is so thrilling!!! I can’t stop turning the pages. Seriously. You rock. Write more, please!” — Katherine Plowman

Atina Diffley’s memoir “Turn Here Sweet Corn” is a great, absorbing read, even for those of us who cannot grow anything and do not worry about pesticides. It’s a classic tale of the little guy fighting the big corporation and of people working hard all their lives only to face the loss of their livelihood. There’s a sweet love story in there, too. Star Tribune Staff

Video by Mike Rivard

Upcoming Events with Atina Diffley, author of Turn Here Sweet Corn


diffley_pb cover

           Hope to see you soon!  Atina


Marketing, Postharvest Handling, and Food Safety for Vegetable Growers


In my last post I told you that I had a busy winter doing farmer trainings on post harvest handling, food safety, and marketing in 29 cities nationally. Thanks goes to the USDA Risk Management Agency for funding these trainings and for development and administration. Attendees received a 5 hour training and a copy of  “Wholesale Success” , edited by Jim Slama and Atina Diffley. Several of the host partners recorded the trainings and they can now be viewed on-line. Share this link with your vegetable farming friends!

Agriculture Expert, Atina Diffley, Encourages Local Growers to Differentiate Their Product

Market research starts long before the seed is in the ground. Learning how to actively seek buyers, negotiate contracts, and build relationships with wholesalers, consumers, and other farmers is crucial for small and mid-sized farmers to succeed—and it’s not a passive process. A Wholesale Success workshop in Leelanau County gave local food producers an opportunity to learn how to enhance their success in the marketplace. Wholesale Success program trainer Atina Diffley said it’s important for local growers to add value to their products and differentiate themselves from large producers.

Wholesale Success: Farmer Training Videos, Marketing, Postharvest Handling, and Food Safety

Louisville Farm to Table sponsored “Wholesale Success,” a two-day event focused on helping farmers learn important tips of the trade, and how to connect with buyers. Consultant Atina Diffley teaches how to pick and handle produce crops to keep them not only safe, but high quality, and how to keep records of performing these tasks. 4.5 hour video training. To purchase the, Wholesale Success Manual visit Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Selling, Post Harvest Handling, and Packing Produce.

© Atina Diffley 2013

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Busy months behind and ahead.


I’ve been on the road more often than not since December with “Wholesale Success” doing farmer trainings on post harvest handling, food safety, and marketing for in 29 cities nationally. Four trainings left to go in S.C., Al., MS., and IN. I’m enjoying meeting farmers all over the country and deepening my understanding of local and organic market development. The travel has been a little brutal and hasn’t left creative energy for this blog. I’m looking forward to spring, the family garden, starting the next book, and returning to blog writing.

As a family we’re planning our 1st formal “family garden.” We’ve always had a personal “kitchen garden” with herbs and salad greens near the house, but we haven’t had an official “family garden” since 1990 when it was bulldozed in Eagan.  We’re really excited about this, three generations in the garden together–planting, weeding, harvesting, and the family meals and [Read more...]

Dear Valerie: Cigars and Tobacco Mosaic Virus


On Dec 4, 2012, at 6:02 PM, Valerie . . .  wrote to Atina Diffley:

Hi Atina,

Firstly I LOVE your book!

My husband and a group of his friends get together about once a month and smoke cigars. Last summer one evening it was at our house and they smoked on the back deck which is level with and about 8′ away from my vegetable garden. I did not put it together with the smoking but my tomatoes were a total flop last year. Some people said it was blight. This year when the smoker was at our house it rained so they moved it to my front porch nowhere near my vegetable garden. I had a nice crop this year . . .  actually still have kale growing. Before I become the wicked witch and ban the guys from smoking here do you think it was the tobacco mosaic you speak about on page 310 that messed up my crop last year. It seemed like no matter what I did they just seemed dehydrated. My husband suggested I contact you before I ban the smoker.

A tobacco plant infected with Tobacco Mosaic Virus. Knapp, E. and Lewandowski, D. J. 2001. Tobacco mosaic virus, not just a single component virus anymore. Molecular Plant Pathology 2(3):117–123. Article first published online : 21 DEC 2001, DOI: 10.1046/j.1364-3703.2001.00064.x

Thank you!!


On Dec 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm Atina Diffley responded:

Dear Valerie,

According to plant pathologists at the University of Minnesota, Tobacco Mosaic Virus is one of the most common plant virus diseases in Minnesota. The dreaded virus is transmittable to tomatoes via tobacco smoke in the air, or transferred via smoke on human/animal skin or clothing. It can survive for up to 50 years in dried plant parts, and there are no efficient chemical or organic treatments that protect tomatoes from the infection or that eliminate viral infections from plant tissues once they do occur. Thus the only known controls are prevention, ie. limiting its spread. Detailed information from the University of Minnesota can be found here.

Typical mottling symptoms appearing on tomato fruit with Tobacco Mosaic Virus (photo John Paul Jones).

It is quite possible that your tomato plants suffered Tobacco Mosaic Virus, however, without the actual plants for physical identification and/or a lab tissue test I fear your claim could be rejected as specious. The plants could also have been infected with late or early blight, anthracnose, septoria leaf spot, fusarium or verticillium wilt, bacterial spot or speck or canker, or a host of other frightful tomato diseases. In fact, it is highly probable that a combination of pathogens caused your plant’s distress–they frequently operate in tandem.

Even if credible evidence were at hand, your advocacy for preventative health measures may be a challenging concept for people who smoke on a regular basis. Since you’ve read Turn Here Sweet Corn, you know I am a strong supporter of women not-giving-up-their-personal-power. I encourage you to carefully evaluate your goals, motives, and all involved parties’ personal agendas in this case while also considering the finances, food supply, and the health–both physical and emotional–of all your family members. (including pets and plants)

I am confident that once you are clear on your priorities you will be able to achieve an outcome based on what is best for you and your family. In the case of the Koch pipeline legal proceeding we were creating a first-of-its-kind organic mitigation plan, designed to “make an offense or crime less serious or more excusable, less harsh, severe, or violent,” and our livelihood and the food source of many eaters was threatened. A complete prohibition of smoking and smoke on pipeline worker’s clothes and bodies while working on our organic farm was our desired outcome.

The leaves of a tomato plant with Tobacco Mosaic Virus exhibit a clear mosaic pattern. (photo John Paul Jones)

In your case, cigars  are an ancient and oft-repeated source of spousal disagreement, and compromise is likely possible as the smokers could choose to move to a different part of your home, and refrain from wandering in the garden. Or you could choose to indulge your husband knowing that your tomato needs can be met by the many farmers at the farmers market anxious to cash in on his habit and social life.

We have had another cigar experience that may be of use in your present situation. A female neighbor of ours was an antique collector and fed up with her husband’s daily cigar smoke. She told him that he could either stop smoking in the house, or build an additional room to store her antiques sans cigars. He choose the latter, a three season room was added onto the house, and she moved her antiques there. Their problem appeared to be solved, but then, ironically, the main house caught fire and was completely destroyed except for the added-on room, which survived the fire with the antiques intact. We purchased the room and moved it to our farm where it now serves as a summer cabin (non-smoking). While this story is clearly hearsay when holding court with a Tabagie,* it may serve as a helpful antidote to share in private with your husband if he resists a compromise and you wish to draw in further influence of a slightly hoodoo nature to emphasis your point.

Best to you and may your smoke issues be peacefully mitigated for your household and garden,

Sincerely, Atina Diffley

*Tabagie: A group of smokers who meet as a club, (1819).

© 2012 by Atina Diffley, All Rights Reserved.

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Atina Diffley is an organic consultant (Organic Farming Works LLC), educator, public speaker, and author of the 2012 memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, published by the University of Minnesota Press. Until 2008, she and her husband Martin ran the Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. One of her favorite things in the world is rain.

The Atina Diffley Kitchen and Give To CURE!


Guess! Where in the world is the Atina Diffley Kitchen!

What could be better than having a kitchen named after oneself!

The Atina Diffley Kitchen in the Writer’s Retreat at CURE in Montevideo, MN.

Today is GGive to the MaxIVE TO THE MAX DAY in Minnesota! On Thursday, November 15, every donation you make gives your favorite organizations the chance to win even more money. Here’s my pick for 2012. I hope you’ll join me in supporting CURE, a MN non-profit that is making a BIG difference.

CLEAN UP THE RIVER ENVIRONMENT is doing quadruple duty. There’s our precious Water, CURE is leading the charge in cleaning up the Minnesota River. They protect Soil. To clean up the river they work to create more living cover on the land–they want more buffer strips everywhere! And Fertilizer–a lot of “nutrients” get into the river by attaching themselves to soil particles, so keeping the soil covered can help stop nutrient pollution as well. And on top of all that CURE supports Writers!

Upstairs of their office in downtown Montevideo CURE has built a writers retreat which they graciously made available to me when I started writing Turn Here Sweet Corn. Each of the retreat rooms are named after authors. There’s the Paul Gruchow Parlor, and the Joseph Amato Study, Joe and Nancy Paddock have a hall named after them, and I slept in the Florence Dacey Bedroom when I wrote there. The Athena Kildegaard Bedroom is just down the hall, and now I am absolutely tickled, pleased giddy-silly, and honored red to be part of this amazing group of passionate writers and to tell you that the the Atina Diffley Kitchen has recently been christened!!! [Read more...]

GMO Sweet Corn Varieties and Genetic-Contamination – Just Label It!


In Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, I wrote about cross-pollination and the threat of genetically modified organisms.

If our sweet corn is cross-pollinated by neighboring field corn, it is not sweet nor is it marketable. Martin manages this threat by recording the dates of all the developmental stages for our crop, as well as the neighbors’ planting and pollen dates. He then adjusts his varieties and planting sequence by what the neighbors plant and when. But genetic contamination is impossible to avoid completely. When there are field corn–pollinated kernels in our sweet corn, they are visible; dark yellow kernels mixed in like polka dots among the small, tender sweet corn kernels. But now there is an even larger challenge and looming threat.

Cross–pollination/genetic-contamination in our organic, bio-color sweet corn seed breeding project in August, 2012. The three dark yellow kernels were cross-pollinated by field corn — 88% chance that it is GMO.

It is 1997, and our neighbors are experimenting with genetically modified field corn (GMO). We don’t want GMO traits in our organic crops, and there is no controlling the pollen. We know from firsthand experience how readily cross-pollination occurs. We are concerned that eventually it will become impossible to find seed and food that isn’t contaminated with GMO traits. — excerpt Turn Here Sweet Corn

I was concerned in 1997, but I couldn’t even imagine then that by 2012 the U.S. Department of Agriculture would report that 88 percent of corn raised in the United States is grown from what scientists now call transgenic seed (a.k.a. GMO, or GE for [Read more...]

Organic Certification Cost Share Program


Minnesota’s organic certification cost share program is now accepting applications!

Often I hear that farmers decide to not certify because of the cost, and when I tell them about the federal cost share program — which can rebate up to 75 percent of the cost of their organic certification — they were not aware of it. If you are a supporter of an organic farm, you can support them but letting them know about this opportunity. Farmers: this is a federal program, check with your state’s department of agriculture to learn their process [Read more...]