Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Sweet alyssum
Sweet alyssum growing at the MOFGA-certified organic Happy Town Farm in Orland. English photo.

Cows Trained to Eat Thistle
“Sandblasting” as Weed Control
Sweet Alyssum Attracts Predators to Orchards
Late Blight Resistant Tomato
Tips from Nan Cobbey
Design a Garden for Scent
Can ‘Naked Oats’ Cut Organic Chicken Production Costs?

Cows Trained to Eat Thistle

A Montana Farmers Union pilot program trained cattle to eat Canada thistle by giving them a variety of feed grain pellets or flakes, in a trough or feeder (not on the ground), and providing the chopped weed once the cattle were accustomed to new tastes and textures. The five-day training schedule follows:

Day 1, a.m. – alfalfa pellets
Day 1, p.m. – half alfalfa pellets, half COB (corn, oats and barley)

Day 2, a.m. – COB with molasses flavor
Day 2, p.m. – rolled barley

Day 3, a.m. – sugar beet pellets
Day 3, p.m. – soybean flake

Day 4, a.m. – range cubes
Day 4, p.m. – hay cubes about 3 inches square

Day 5, a.m. – hay mixed with thistle, sprayed with molasses water
Day 5, p.m. – thistle

After day 5, the cattle began eating thistle in the fields. Ten days later, all Canada thistle tops had been chewed or eaten, and some non-trained cattle began eating thistles as well.

Using similar training, the Natural Resources Conservation Service trained cattle in Montana to eat leafy spurge. Both spurge and thistle are high in protein.

Target weeds must be correctly identified to be sure they’re not toxic to cattle.

This system of training livestock to eat particular weeds was developed by Kathy Voth of Livestock for Landscapes, LLC. Her website,, has more information and a link to her book, Cows Eat Weeds, How to Turn Your Cows into Weed Managers.

(“Cattle can be trained to eat weeds, control noxious growth,” by Terri Adams, Ag Weekly, Dec. 29, 2011;


“Sandblasting” as Weed Control

In weed control tests conducted on six plantings of field corn over two years, corncob grit was applied by compressed air, analogous to sandblasting. The blasting was aimed at weeds growing near the bases of corn plants, with treatments varying from the one- to five-leaf stages of corn growth. Some test crops received second and third treatments of abrasion.

The corn plants were unaffected by the procedure. Multiple sandblasting at the one- and five-leaf or the one-, three- and five-leaf stages controlled weeds well throughout the growing season but was not cost-effective. Costs could be reduced, however, if a farm collected and milled its own corncobs rather than purchasing grit, or if an organic fertilizer, such as seed meal or crushed limestone, were used, achieving two purposes at once. (“Air-Propelled Abrasive Grit for Postemergence In-Row Weed Control in Field Corn,” Weed Technology, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2012;


Sweet Alyssum Attracts Predators to Orchards

Washington State University researchers grew sweet alyssum in lanes between rows of apple trees to attract syrphids (also known as flower flies or hoverflies), a predator of woolly apple aphids. Adult syrphids’ primary food is nectar, so they are common among some flowers; the syrphid larvae, however, thrive on aphids. Sweet alyssum grows low to the ground and flowers from a few weeks after planting until frost. Aphids disappeared faster next to the alyssum plots than they did in grassy control plots. (“WSU Scientists Use Flower Power to Combat Orchard Menace,” by Brian Clark;


Late Blight Resistant Tomato

‘Mountain Magic’ tomato is resistant to late blight. It produces tasty fruit and can be used as rootstock onto which scions of other varieties are grafted. For directions for grafting tomatoes, see “How to Graft Greenhouse Tomatoes,” (“Tomato Grafting: It’s Easier Than You Think and Will Yield Results,” by Ari Levaux, The Atlantic, Jan. 24, 2012;


Tips from Nan Cobbey

Nan’s tips were at the Waldo Organic Growers’ booth at the Common Ground Country Fair.

Pennsylvania Dutch Buttery Popcorn

I hang bunches of ears from our rafters after harvest but then strip the kernels from the ears and store them in jars. Popcorn can become too dry to pop. When that happens, I put an apple core in the jar to rehydrate the kernels.

Corn for Cornmeal

I hang corn from our rafters to dry, then shell it when ready to grind it in our hand-cranked grain mill.

Dried Sweet Corn

Blanch ears in boiling water for two to three minutes. Slice kernels off the cob and arrange them on dryer trays. Dehydrate on medium or high until crisp. Store in jars indefinitely. To reconstitute, soak overnight in milk.

Sauerkraut Plus

I like to mix cabbage with other veggies: kohlrabi, greens, onions, carrots, turnips, etc. I use the cabbage cores at the top to push the veggies into the juice.


For a burst of summer sunshine in midwinter, we dry strawberries. Slice berries and lay them on cookie sheets or screens. Dry in a sunny window or on the deck of your vehicle. Solar power!

Dried Rose Hips

Clip stems and tails off rose hips with scissors. Wash hips. Chop roughly and arrange on dryer trays. Dehydrate until crisp. Store in glass jars. Steep in boiling water for a tea rich in vitamin C. Great with dried orange zest added to the teapot.

Dried Hot Peppers

Put on gloves. Slice peppers into thin cross sections. Arrange on dryer trays. Dehydrate on medium or high until crisp. If drying habanero or other seriously hot peppers, keep windows open for good ventilation. Do not be tempted to sniff the dried peppers, especially if grinding them into a powder.

Dried Cherry Tomatoes

Slice cherry tomatoes in half. Arrange on dryer trays. Dehydrate on high until dry but still chewy (not crisp).

Stewed Tomatoes

A variety of ripe tomatoes were first skinned then simmered for an hour, then poured into canning jars with a piece of shallot and a stalk of basil in each. They were then processed in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

Lemon Verbena

Great for tea and for scenting soaps and lotions. Clip branches in late July and again in mid-September. Bundle 12 to 14 stems with a rubber band and hang them in a warm, dry place until crisp. Strip leaves and store them in jars or ceramic canisters. Pulverize dried leaves with sugar to use in drinks, sprinkled over fruit and baked into cakes and other desserts.

Black Walnuts

‘Styrian’ naked-seeded pumpkin
‘Styrian’ naked-seeded pumpkin in the Waldo Organic Growers’ booth at the 2011 Common Ground Country Fair. English photo.

Wearing gloves to protect from stains, pick up dropped nuts and put them in the driveway until the husks come off. Dry and store them in onion bags. Crack the nuts for fresh eating.

Styrian Naked-Seeded Pumpkin

The seeds do not have a shell on them. I store the pumpkins until I’m ready to cut them open and lay the seeds on cookie sheets to dry. The pumpkin flesh is bland, but I bake or steam it and mix it with soups to thicken, or make curry, or pancakes or muffins.

Amplissimo Viktoria Peas

Peas planted early produce very well for me. I use these like chickpeas – yummy for hummus.

Dried Peas and Beans

I pick mature pods and spread them on screens laid across our rafters to dry. Then I shell the peas or beans and store them in jars. Later they can be cooked and canned for quick meals.


In the spring we can maple sap, early in the process of making maple syrup, then use the sap in the late summer as the “syrup” when canning peaches.


We pasture lamb all summer, then butcher it in late fall and roast it for a neighborhood potluck. The leftovers and carcass we put in a big pot to boil, pick the meat, and pressure can the meat in broth.

Petit Jewell Grapes

I lay these small, seedless pink grapes on screens in our solar food drier to make our own raisins.


Design a Garden for Scent

1. Place the garden in an area that gets frequent foot traffic or is next to a seating area so that you and your visitors can enjoy it.

2. A south-facing garden will allow a wider variety of plants, and the sun can release additional scents more so than a shaded area.

3. Use an assortment of each group of plants below for season-long blooms and scents.

Annuals: dianthus, heliotrope, petunia, stock, sweet alyssum, tuberose

Perennials: agastache, autumn snakeroot, creeping phlox, daffodils, hyacinths, iris, lavender, lily-of-the-valley, phlox

Shrubs: azaleas, gardenia, lilac, mock orange, roses, viburnums, white forsythia

Vines: honeysuckle, jasmine, moonflower, sweet pea

Herbs: basil, mint, parsley, rosemary

Source: The National Garden Bureau,


Can ‘Naked Oats’ Cut Organic Chicken Production Costs?

Scientists with Ohio State University are studying the feasibility of incorporating “naked oats” (also called hull-less oats) into organic farming rotations to cut the cost of producing organic chicken.

Naked oats lack the outer hull found on conventional oats. They have a unique protein and amino acid balance, and will be tested in the diets of pasture-raised organic broiler chickens. The chickens will be considered part of the crop rotation within a given year, both as a product to sell and as a source of manure to enhance soil fertility.

Mike Lilburn, an animal sciences professor at the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the leader of the study, says, “What I’m hoping is that in four years we can offer a cost-effective crop rotation alternative to organic producers, one that produces a quality organic product but decreases the cost of production.”

Selling naked oats to other organic poultry producers or for use in high-value organic foods such as granola could be other options for farmers, he said.

“Naked oats are higher in protein than conventional oats and have an amino acid profile that may reduce the proportion of high-cost, high-protein supplements that are currently needed to produce balanced organic diets,” Lilburn said. “If our hypothesis is correct and naked oats can be used at up to 70 to 80 percent of the diet for pasture-reared broilers, this becomes a new option for organic producers.”

For now, the cost of organic chicken feed, typically bought off the farm, limits expanding organic poultry production, Lilburn said.

The study will be done at OARDC’s certified-organic research plots at the center’s East Badger Farm near Wooster. The birds will be kept in portable pens, or “chicken tractors,” with spelt and red clover as the other crops in the rotation. In the second year, three area farms will test the diets and rotations. (“Can ‘Naked Oats’ Cut Organic Chicken Production Costs?” by Kurt Knebusch, April 2, 2012;


MOF&G Cover Summer 2012