Course CodeVHT241
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment
Organic Vegetable Production Course

Organic growing of plants works with nature, rather than against it. It recognises the fact that nature is complex and accordingly endeavours to understand interactions between plants, animals and insects. It therefore encourages the gardener for example to learn about the life-cycle of pests and to use this knowledge to control them.

Lesson Structure

There are 12 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • Organic Growing and it's definitions
    • Influential people in the organic movement
    • Different ways to grow -permaculture, biodynamics, etc.
    • Organic certification
    • Transition to organic production
    • Management Plan
    • Industry awareness
    • Resources and Networking
    • Understanding Plant Names
  2. Cultivation and Planting
    • Cultivation methods
    • Crop rotation
    • Green manures
    • No dig growing
    • Planting
    • Sowing vegetable seed outside
    • Germinating indoors
    • Transplanting seedlings
    • Crowns, offsets, tubers
    • Crop scheduling
    • Tillage, Ripping, Harrowing, Dis ploughing, etc
    • Tractors
  3. Soils and Nutrition
    • Physical soil properties -profile, texture, etc
    • Chemical properties -pH, cation exchange capacity, buffering etc.
    • Soil water, air, temperature
    • Humus and Organic matter
    • Nutrient elements
    • Organic Fertilizers
    • Animal manure
    • Liquid feeds in an organic system
    • Rock dusts
    • Diagnosing nutritional problems
  4. Soil Management
    • Importance of soil
    • Cultivation techniques
    • Cover crops
    • Green manures
    • Nitrogen fixation
    • Rhizobium bacteria
    • Mycorrhizae
    • Composting
    • Hot heaps vs cold
  5. Review of Major Vegetable Varieties
    • Getting the best from an organic vegetable plot
    • Vegetable Directory -Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Sprouts, Cabbacge, Capsicum, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Celery, Eggplant. Lettuce, Onion, Pak Choi, Parsnip, Pea, Potato, Pumpkin, Marrow, Squash, Radish, Spinich Turnip
    • Transplanting Guide
  6. Pests and Disease
    • Integrated Pest Management
    • Allowable Inputs
    • Understanding Pest and Disease
    • Understanding Other Plant Problems
    • Lifecycles
    • Review of common problems
    • Companion Planting
  7. Seed
    • Organic seed
    • Seed production -preventing cross pollination
    • Choosing seed plants for vegetable crops
    • Collecting seeds
    • Cleaning and storing seed
    • Seed germination
  8. Greenhouse Growing
    • Types of greenhouses
    • Framing and covering materials
    • What greenhouse is appropriate
    • Siting a greenhouse
    • Benching
    • Greenhouse hygiene
    • Problems with greenhouses
    • Other structures -cold frames, shade houses
    • Environmental controls
    • Heating, Cooling
    • Controlling light
    • Growing media
    • Fertigation in organic systems
    • Carbon dioxide enrichment
    • Irrigation Methods
    • Crops Directory -Tomatoes, Cucumber, Melons, Zucchini
  9. Lesser Grown Varieties and Herbs
    • Growing herbs
    • Review of many culinary herbs-Alliums, Corriander, Mints, Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Pasley, Savory, Thyme, etc.
    • Review of lesser grown vegetables -Amaranth, Artichoke, Asparagus, Cassava, Chicory, Dandelion, Garlic, Endive, Ginger, Horseradish, Chicory, Mint, Leek, Okra, Pigface, Rhubarb, Sweet Potato, Warrigul Greens, Taro, Yams, etc
  10. Irrigation
    • Irrigation objectives and feasibility
    • Soil and water
    • Understanding classes of soil moisture
    • Soil and transpiration
    • Field capacity
    • Permenant Wilting point
    • Tensiometers
    • When to irrigate
    • Scheduling irrigation
    • When to irrigate
    • Cyclic watering
    • Pulse watering
    • Plant root depth
    • Irrigation type -flood, sprinkler, ytickle etc.
    • Portable, permenant or travelling sprinklers
    • Sprinklet spacings
  11. Mulching and Weeds
    • Understanding mulch
    • Types of mulch materials
    • Rules for using mulch
    • Living mulch
    • Weed Management
    • Preventing weeds
  12. Harvesting and Marketing
    • Harvesting techniques
    • PostHarvest quality considerations
    • Harvesting hints
    • Post harvest treatment of vegetables -field processing
    • Cooling
    • Quality standards
    • Monitoring and reviewing
    • Marketing
    • Business capabilities
    • Market research
    • Target marketing
    • Understanging economics

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss general horticulture and plant taxonomy principles
  • Describe a range of cultivation and planting techniques
  • Explain soil properties, and their relationship to organic plant production
  • Diagnose basic soil nutrient deficiencies
  • Discuss major and minor commercial vegetable varieties
  • Describe a variety of pest and disease management principles
  • Explain the use of seed in commercial organic agriculture, including storage
    • viability
    • germination
    • genetic purity
    • hybridisation
  • Discuss the principles of greenhouse growing
  • Describe a variety of irrigation methods suitable for organic vegetable production
  • Explain organic weed control methods
  • Explain issues relating to harvesting and marketing of vegetables

What You Will Do

  • Here are just some of the things you will be doing:
  • Compile reference lists of vegetable varieties, industry contacts, organic fertilisers and pest control products, etc.
  • Evaluate the merits and deficiencies of agricultural equipment and products
  • Build a no-dig garden and monitor its progress
  • Classify soils
  • Evaluate the role of soil organisms
  • Identify nutrient deficiencies such as nitrogen deficiency
  • Build composts
  • Evaluate seed sources and plant varieties
  • Perform sowing and germination trials
  • Evaluate the merits and deficiencies of greenhouse growing
  • Evaluate the principles of irrigation
  • Perform mulching trials
  • Evaluate pricing, packaging and presentation of retail vegetables

What is Organic Growing?

Organic gardening and farming has been given a variety of names over the years - biological farming, sustainable agriculture, alternative agriculture, to name a few. Definitions of what is and isn't 'organic' are also extremely varied. Some of the most important features of organic production, as recognised by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), include:
Practices which are typical for organic systems are composting, intercropping, crop rotation, fallowing, mechanical, hand weeding or heat-based weed control, green manure crops and the use of legumes to increase soil fertility. Pests and diseases are tackled with environmentally acceptable, sprays that have little environmental impact and biological controls (eg. predatory mites).  

Organic gardeners should avoid the use of inorganic (soluble) fertilisers, super-phosphate for example should not be used because it contains sulphuric acid, rock phosphate however is the acceptable alternative. Synthetic chemical herbicides, growth hormones and pesticides should also be avoided.  One of the foundations of organic gardening and farming, linking many other principles together, is composting. By combining different materials, balancing carbon and nitrogen levels, coarse and fine ingredients, bacteria and worms act to break down the waste products. Composting produces a valuable fertiliser that can be returned to improve the soil. Natural biological cycles are promoted, 'wastes' are re-used and the need for external supplies of fertiliser are reduced or cut altogether.  

How Can Pests be Controlled Organically?
Organic vegetable growers do not use chemicals to control pest or disease problems, but they may use "natural sprays" that are approved and accepted by the organic industry where they operate. 
There are safe, organically sound sprays which can be used in the garden. They may not have a "bulldozer effect" like some of the potent chemicals, but they are safe to both you and the environment, and if used properly will keep most of your problems well under control. There are two types of organic sprays: 
  1. Sprays Made by the Grower.   These can be effective if prepared and used as recommended, however things can go wrong when you don't know exactly what you are doing, both with making, and using a spray. 
  2. Pre Packaged or Professionally Manufactured Sprays -There are a lot of companies today which specialize in organically sound garden products. The range of sprays available seem to be continually on the increase. Be sure they are 100% organic though.
Despite their low toxicity, it pays to always follow some basic rules with any spray, even organic ones:
  • Don't use containers (eg: saucepans) for making sprays for cooking or anything other than making sprays.
  • Label everything you make clearly and keep out of reach of children.
  • Protect your skin when spraying and avoid breathing the spray in.
  • Don't spray on hot or windy days.
  • Only spray what needs to be sprayed.
Diatomaceous Earth Spray
This is fossilized algae (ie. Diatoms) which, when ground into a fine powder, produces microscopic razor sharp needles which will cut small animals such as insects or snails without being any serious threat to larger animals or humans. It can be applied as a dust or made into a solution and sprayed on. Avoid breathing it in. It can be purchased from swimming pool shops.
  • Mix: 0.3 of a kilogram of diatomaceous earth
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid detergent (eg: dishwashing detergent)
  • 1.2 litres of warm water
Spray directly onto insects or plant parts which they will eat. It is effective against snails, slugs, aphis, thrip, mites, caterpillars, maggots and most soft bodied insect larvae.
Soapy Water
Soapy water when sprayed over some insects will kill them. It is important to understand that it kills by putting a film of soap over their bodies which suffocates them. As such, it must contact and cover the insect when it is sprayed to work.
  • Mix: 16gm of pure soap powder (be careful that it doesn't have any chemical additives).
  • 2 litres of water
This is particularly effective on caterpillars, aphids, mealy bug and scale.
Quassia Spray
Quassia is sometimes available as chips of wood from stems of the plant "Picrasma quassioides".
  • Boil 45gm of Quassia chips in water for half an hour.
  • Strain off while still warm and mix with 40gm of soap flakes
  • Mix 1 part of this solution with 2 parts of cold water and spray.
This may kill soft bodied insects such as aphids, caterpillars and even leafhoppers, but does not kill insects with a hard shell such as ladybirds or beetles.
Garlic Spray
  • Mix 120gms of chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons of paraffin oil, 20gms soap powder and half a litre of water.
  • Leave to stand for 2 days, strain, bottle and store in a dark, cool place.
  • Add one part of this solution to 50 parts of water when ready to spray.
This has an effect that helps control both insects and fungal disease.
Particularly appropriate to control sucking insects such as mealy bug or aphis, or on fungal problems usually treated with sulphur sprays.
This is made from the flower heads of either "Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium" or "Chrysanthemum roseum".
  • Add 1 tablespoon of flower heads to 1 litre of hot water, 
  • Allow to stand for 1hr, 
  • Strain off the flower heads and add a pinch or two of soap powder. 
  • Mix and spray.
Effective against most insects.
Rhubarb Spray
  • Boil 1kg of rhubarb leaves (not stems) in 2 litres of water for half an hour.
  • Strain off leaves
  • Add the solution to 9 litres of water
  • Use within 24hrs
Spray on aphis
Do not eat any plants that have been sprayed within 2 days of spraying.
  • Grind mustard seed into a fine powder.
  • Put into a jar with some nail holes punched in the lid.
Shake over plants to control powdery mildew.
Stinging  Nettle Spray
  • Place chopped stinging nettle plants in a bucket of water,
  • Cover and allow to stand for three weeks, or until the foliage has rotted down.
  • Strain off the remaining plant material to obtain the nettle liquid.
It is rich in iron and can be sprayed as a nutrient fertilizer
The spray is reported to help control pests & diseases, and promote
better growth in a range of plants.
Chamomile Spray
Can be used as an insecticide spray, similar to pyrethrum. Also deters mosquitoes and flies when leaves are bruised.
White Cedar (Melia azaderach)
A spray made from the leaves steeped in boiling water (which is cooled before application) repels grasshoppers.
Eucalyptus Sprays
Spray made from crushed eucalyptus leaves repels earwigs, slaters, ants and cockroaches. Applications should be done with care, as beneficial earthworms may also be adversely affected.
Organic vegetables can often command a higher price than other vegetables; but they can also cost more to grow, and in some respects, require a higher level of skill to be grown.
A big part of being able to avoid crop damage or losses is to identify  and control problems before they get out of hand. Growers who use toxic chemicals can apply chemicals so freely that the problems are unlikely to ever appear; and if they do, the grower can use an "over kill" approach to attack and eliminate the problem quickly. The downside for that approach is that the produce is likely to contain chemical residues; and customers are increasingly aware of that fact., This is when and why organic produce can command a higher price.
You may use this course to help you convert your existing practices toward more "organic" growing;  or you may use it to learn the basics before setting out to establish your own farm, small or large.

Meet some of our academics

Bob James Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry. He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Masters Degree in Environmental Science. He has worked a Grounds Manager at a major university; and a manager in a municipal parks department. Over recent years he has been helping younger horticulturists as a writer, teacher and consultant; and in that capacity, brings a diverse and unique set of experiences to benefit our students.
John Mason Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.
Maggi BrownMaggi is the classic UK "plantswoman". She can identify thousands of plants, and maintains her own homes and gardens in the Cotswolds (England), and near Beziers (in Southern France). Maggi is regarded as a leading organics expert across the UK, having worked for 20 years as Education Officer at the "Garden Organic" (formerly HDRA). Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS, Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Rosemary Davies Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences. Initially she worked with the Department of Agriculture in Victoria providing advice to the public. Over the years she has taught horticulture students, worked on radio with ABC radio (clocking up over 24 years as a presenter of garden talkback programs, initially the only woman presenter on gardening in Victoria) and she simultaneously developed a career as a writer. She then studied Education and Training, teaching TAFE apprentices and developing curriculum for TAFE, before taking up an offer as a full time columnist with the Herald and Weekly Times and its magazine department after a number of years as columnist with the Age. She has worked for a number of companies in writing and publications, PR community education and management and has led several tours to Europe. In 1999 Rosemary was BPW Bendigo Business Woman of the Year and is one of the founders and the Patron, of the Friends of the Bendigo Botanic gardens. She has completed her 6th book this year and is working on concepts for several others. Rosemary has a B Ed, BSc Hort, Dip Advertising & Marketing

Check out our eBooks

Growing and Using Vegetablesby John Mason (Printed book) published by Kangaroo Press (imprint of Simon and Schuster)
Organic GardeningFor decades farmers have relied upon chemicals to control pests and diseases in order to produce saleable crops. In the ornamental, vegetable and fruit gardens reliance on chemical controls has also been the mainstay for many gardeners.
Capsicums and ChilliesWith 71 pages of fantastic information on Capsicums and Chillies, this ebook is ideal for any gardener, home cook, horticulture student or capsicum enthusiast to get to know more about this great fruit.
Cucumbers, Pumpkins, MarrowsLearn to grow and use all sorts of cucurbits as vegetables and more.



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