Professional Training for Developing a Hands-On Organic Weed Management Learning Center for Commercial Market Gardens in Local Communities

2009 Annual Report for EW08-016

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2008: $89,492.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Beth LaShell
Fort Lewis College

Professional Training for Developing a Hands-On Organic Weed Management Learning Center for Commercial Market Gardens in Local Communities


The Organic Weed Management Learning Center had a very successful year providing educational opportunities for local professionals, students and community members. We hosted a large symposium in February and five hands-on workshops during the summer at our research market garden. The market garden demonstrated 14 different organic weed management techniques and offered workshop participants a chance to view ongoing results and learn more about methodology, soil and sustainability analysis, weed control efficacy and market garden production. A blog chronicling the different activities was maintained and a website was established.

Objectives/Performance Targets

For 2008-2009 the following objectives were identified in the original proposal:

Host Organic Weed Management Strategies Symposium
Assess efficacy of organic weed management strategies
Gather information on current producer practices and agricultural professional knowledge
Hire hourly students
Complete appropriate soil preparation and tests
Meet with regional Extension Agents to identify potential participants

Publicize establishment of Learning Center and host initial workshop
Create website, listserv and BLOG for Learning Center participants.
Schedule multiple workshops on methodology, soil and sustainability analysis, efficacy and production, and managing web-based information.
Create Learning Center plots for mulching, mechanical control, intercropping, solarization and organic herbicides.
Create training documents for each Learning Center workshop. Distribute and make available on website.
Collect appropriate data to document efficacy, sustainability and production differences.
Continually update participants through website, listserv and BLOG
Conduct workshop on identifying and establishing on-farm demonstration sites


Hosted Organic Weed Management Strategies Symposium
The Four-Corners WSARE Organic Weed Management Conference was held on February 25, 2009 at LaPlata County Fairgrounds in Durango, CO. There were 72 participants, 5 speakers and 5 extension agents present. Of the participants, 5 were from Archuleta, 33 from LaPlata, 10 from Montezuma, 6 from San Miguel/Dolores, 14 from San Juan County, NM, and 4 from other counties in Colorado. In addition to a full program, recruitment material was distributed to encourage participants to become part of the Learning Center. Over 60 people completed a form indicating they would be interested in the Learning Center. They were added to our participants list and emailed information on all scheduled workshops.
Fifty three of the participants rated their before and after knowledge on each of the presentations. The gain in knowledge (on a scale from 1 to 10) was Cover Crops (2.82), Weed Identification (1.82), Organic Weed Management Research Updates (3.55), Revegetation with Grasses (1.5), Hands-On Organic Weed Management Learning Center for Commercial Market Gardens in Local Communities (4.66),Organic Herbicides (2.78). The most significant change they planed to make was incorporating cover crops into their operations.

Gathered information on current producer practices and agricultural professional knowledge
On April 28th, at the Initial workshop for the Learning Center, Jim Dyer, SWMN, had the participants complete a survey. Thirty three participants completed the survey. Hourly students entered the data and it was turned over to SWMN for analysis.

Hired hourly students
The project hired a part time hourly during the Winter 09 to assist with data entry and Spring planning. During the summer, we hired a full time Fort Lewis College student to assist with data collection, plot maintenance, and workshop assistance. We were also able to work with our local Training Advantage program and hire two additional full time students who were paid by the Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium. These students assisted us with all aspects of the project. Once school started, one part time hourly employee was maintained to help with continued data collection and completion of the growing season. Additionally, a student from the FLC Summer Field Class completed a 3 credit internship during the Fall semester.

Completed appropriate soil preparation and tests
An initial soil test was done in the demonstration plot showing that we had 16.9% organic matter so no further soil amendments were necessary. Plant tests were conducted in July when the vegetables in the shredded paper plot were not growing and exhibiting chlorosis. Plant material was collected and analyzed for Nitrogen content showing that all existing plants (beets, beans, broccoli, cabbage and corn) had less than 2.62%.

Met with regional Extension Agents to identify potential participants
Each year the San Juan Basin (LaPlata, Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel, Archuleta and San Juan, NM) agents meet to plan the upcoming workshops for the region. All of the agents contributed to the Organic Weed Management conference on February 25 and were in attendance. Each of the regional agents agreed to distribute information to current and former master gardeners, and publicize the Learning Center workshops in their newsletters. Contact with the Model Farmers was more difficult because most of them do not have emails and only receive information via mail. A small group of them attended the initial workshop in April and I was given access to the entire mailing list in mid summer. Three of the five agents also attended the initial workshop on April 28th and at least one additional workshop during the summer.

Publicized establishment of Learning Center and host initial workshop
Brochures and recruitment flyers were distributed to Model Farmers, master gardeners, FLC students and community members. Additional flyers and brochures were distributed through regional cooperative extension offices
Project details and the initial workshop were featured in Durango Herald weekly column by Darrin Parmenter, LaPlata County Extension Agent. All email correspondence sent to Darrin was forwarded to over 100 current and former Master Gardeners.
The initial workshop was held on April 28th, 2009 at the San Juan Basin Research Center. There were 56 people who attended the workshop, 33 of them completed an initial survey by Jim Dyer, SWMN and 17 completed an evaluation form. Of the attendees, 24 were from LaPlata, 19 from Montezuma, 7 from San Juan County, NM, 4 from San Miguel and 1 from Dolores County. The program consisted of three formal presentations and a survey by Jim Dyer from SWMN followed by a tour of the demonstration plots. Evaluations indicated that knowledge gained for the various presentations were Welcome and Introduction to the OWM Learning Center for Commercial Market Gardens- 5.29, Certified Organic Process – 4.00, Alternative Control Methods and Organic Herbicides – 3.59 and Tour of Organic Weed Management Learning Center Research Areas – 3.59. The audience was made up of 30 growers, 8 model farmers, 10 master gardeners, and 8 extension personnel.

Created website, listserv and BLOG for Learning Center participants.
A website was established at The website was used to announce upcoming events, post presentations from the symposiums and workshops. We have also begun posting additional reference material related to some of the organic weed management techniques we are using.
A BLOG was established at The Blog was designed to keep participants up to date during the growing season. We posted upcoming activities and updates (with pictures) of the 14 different treatments. We found that it is difficult to keep the blog timely during the growing season. We’ll try to set aside one day a week this summer to blog.
A listserv was established but we only received three subscriptions. I think that many people have subscribed to a listserv that overwhelmed their inbox so they are leery of this method of communication.

Scheduled multiple workshops on methodology, soil and sustainability analysis, efficacy and production, and managing web-based information.
Our initial plan was to offer only two-hour workshops but we found that our participants preferred the option of a four hour activity covering more than one topic. We ask interested participants to complete a survey about days and times for the short workshops. Their comments caused us to change the way we offered the workshops. While most participants attended both workshops, some only attended one.
We offered the June workshops from 8-10 and 10-12 followed by a one to two hour lunch and discussion. This post workshop time was rewarding to both the participants and the presenters.
Workshops began in June after the plots were established by the FLC Field Class during the month of May. The students assisted with the selection of the methods and each of the 10 students spent approximately 15 hours establishing their assigned plot.
In 2009, we experienced extreme heat in July so we decided not to host the outdoor workshops. This past Fall, we built a harvest shed next to the plots that can be used next summer during the hot weather. The August workshop was held from 3-5 and 5-7, followed by dinner and discussion. The afternoon time allowed some of our working participants to attend. The October workshop was attended by participants from the Backyard Gardening class hosted by LaPlata County. After a 5-7 pm workshop, we hosted dinner and a formal presentation of our WSARE project.

Soil Analysis: June 4, 19, August 13
Soil analyses hands on topics included taking soil samples, using a pentrometer (measures soil compaction), infiltrometer (measures water percolation) and soil pH.

Methodology: June 4, 19, August 13, October 7
Methodology topics included working with different options for market gardens including barrier methods (black plastic, biodegradable options, weed barriers, mechanical tools) and alternative treatments (corn gluten meal, flaming, horticultural vinegar). Participants were also given the opportunity to try out several of the hand weeding tools that the Learning Center has been using in the plots.

Efficacy and Production: June 19, August 13, October 7
Efficacy topics included visually inspecting the different treatments as well as reviewing production data from the different plots, showing participants how to take and interpret transect data. We also shared production data from the various treatments with participants.

Web-based Information: August 13, October 7
Participants were given URLs for both the Blog and website. Most of the discussion centered on accessing some of the technology that we were utilizing. In particular, they were interested in the thermacrons ( that recorded temperature and sources for the various mulches and weeding tools. We do not have a local source of these innovative mulches and tools.

Attendance at the June 4th workshops was 16, June 19th was 13, August 13th was 18, and October 7th had 35 backyard gardeners. The June 4th workshop had 3 growers, 2 model farmers, 7 master gardeners, 2 extension personnel and 2 students. The June 19th workshop had 4 growers, 2 model farmers, 2 master gardeners, 2 extension agents and 3 students. The August 13th workshop had 6 growers, 5 master gardeners, 4 extension personnel and 3 students.

Created Learning Center plots for mulching, mechanical control, intercropping, solarization and organic herbicides.
In 2009, fourteen different organic weed methods were established. In addition to a Control, barrier methods included biofilm, black plastic, ecover, garden blanket, NRCS and Sunbelt weed fabrics, planters paper, shredded paper and Weedguard plus, mechanical methods included flaming, glasier wheel hoe, and horticultural vinegar. Within each treatment, 4 reps were planted of beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage and corn.
The FLC summer Field Experiences in Agriculture course assisted with planning, layout and planting of the 14 plots. Each student was assigned a specific strategy to research and implement. They were responsible for laying out repetitions, applying initial treatments and planting crops. This was an outstanding experience for them because they took ownership of their strategy and learned about experimental design through a hands-on experience. Plot signs were erected at the beginning of each 80 foot row with beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage and corn planted in four replicates of 5 feet each.

Created training documents for each Learning Center workshop. Distribute and make available on website.
The primary training document was developed by Dr. Phil Shuler on Soil Analysis. This was definitely our most popular hands-on workshop because they were able to work with pH meters, infiltrometer and penotrometer. We provided cost analyses handouts for the 14 different methods being studied, potential sources for purchasing tools and barriers and websites for technology like thermocrons.

Collected appropriate data to document efficacy, sustainability and production differences.
Data collected on the research plots included journal entries documenting planting and germination dates for the various crops as well as any unique observations (severe chlorosis in shredded paper), recording production data by treatment, replicate and crop, and mid-season transects to characterize plant populations within treatment and replicate. During the first week of June, thermacrons were placed 4 inches into the soil in each of the treatments to record temperatures. They were initially programmed to record temperatures every hour. Thermacrons were removed September 29th and data was downloaded. Upon downloading it was discovered that some thermacrons recorded temperatures every 30 minutes and to allow rollover data. Unfortunately, this combination caused the early data to be written over. The resulting data was inconclusive.

Assessed efficacy of organic weed management strategies
In addition to numerical data, pictures of each plot were taken at least once a month. Pictures were also used to document unique events such as severe chlorosis in the shredded paper plots and an aphis infestation on the west side of the garden. These pictures were placed in the blog and will be used in project presentations.
Vegetables were harvested at appropriate maturity and weights and counts of each rep and treatment were recorded. Summary data indicate that vegetables grown using the Ecover mulch produced the most vegetables (21.3 pounds) while the least amount was produced in the shredded paper (.8) and the control (2.2). Other treatment production numbers in pounds were Planters Paper – 19.9, CGM – 18.6, Glaser Wheel Hoe – 18.2, Sunbelt Weed Fabric – 17.4, Biofilm – 15.6, Flaming – 13.3, Hort Vinegar – 12, Black Plastic – 11.4, Garden Blanket – 7.5, Weed Guard Plus – 6.3, and NRCS Fabric – 5.1. Additional analyses within replicate and crop will be done at the completion of the project.
A 20’ transect line was used to record weed, crop or bare ground every 12 inches. Three transects were taken in each replicate for a total of 240 data points per treatment. Preliminary results indicated that shredded paper and glaser wheel hoe treatments had the highest percentage of bare ground at 83 and 75, respectively. While shredded paper certainly served an excellent weed barrier, we did experience severe chlorosis in all of the crops. Research indicates that any fresh, light-colored, unweathered organic mulch will tie up nitrogen during the early stages of decomposition. Germination time was much longer than other treatments and transplants did not prosper either. We first recorded pH of soil, paper much and soil outside treatment. There were no observed differences in pH so we sent plant tissue samples to Servi-tech laboratories. Results indicated low levels of Nitrogen in the tissue.

Continually updated participants through website, listserv and BLOG
The website and BLOG are being updated with post-season production results. Once all of the data has been posted, we’ll send an email to all participants and place an announcement in extension newsletters. Because many of the model farmers do not have access to email, we will be working on a fact sheet that we’ll distribute via the February Symposium and mail.

Conducted workshop on identifying and establishing on-farm demonstration sites
We have been working with San Juan Basin agents to identify sites for 2010. San Miguel County has requested a site at their high altitude location and we’re working with their agent to find a site. We will be hosting the second Organic Weed Management Symposium on February 23, 2010 in Farmington, NM. We would like to increase the participation of the Model Farmer participants and locate a suitable demonstration site in the Shiprock area. Because their growing season starts so much earlier than CO sites, we will complete their location first.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

During the first year of this grant, we have introduced a lot of new information related to Organic Weed Management into the community and raised awareness for alternative methods of weed control in market gardens. The day long symposium and the initial workshop utilized the traditional means of formal presentations while the Learning Center workshops focused on hands-on activities. We were pleasantly surprised to have such a large turnout at the Symposium in February and our attendance numbers have shown great support for our project. The participants have responded well to the hands-on approach of the workshops. Our target audience, extension personnel, master gardeners, model farmers, progressive producers and students, have been actively participating. The Learning Center benefitted 43 growers, 16 model farmers, 29 master gardeners, 21 extension personnel and 18 students in 2009. We are actively working with different communities to establish demonstration sites in 2010 and have scheduled the Organic Weed Symposium for February, 23, 2010 in Farmington, NM.


Darrin Parmenter
Extension Agent
Colorado State University
2500 Main Avenue
Durango, CO 81301
Office Phone: 9703826464
Phil Shuler
Fort Lewis College
1000 Rim Drive
Durango, CO 81301
Office Phone: 9702477192
Jim Dyer
Southwest Marketing Network
272 CR 134
Hesperus, CO 81326
Office Phone: 9705882292
Gary Hathorn
New Mexico State University
PO Box 1051
Flora Vista, NM 87415
Office Phone: 5053205056