Grow organic food. This course teaches how to grow different herbs, vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, etc more sustainably and organically through distance education.

Course Code: VHT241
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Grow Organic Vegetables - use Sustainable Techniques and Learn about Organic Systems

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, Cabbage, Capsicum, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Celery, Eggplant. Lettuce, Onion, Pak Choi, Parsnip, Pea, Potato, Pumpkin, Marrow, Squash, Radish, Spinach 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, Warrigal Greens, Taro, Yams, etc
  10. Irrigation
    • Irrigation objectives and feasibility
    • Soil and water
    • Understanding classes of soil moisture
    • Soil and transpiration
    • Field capacity
    • Permanent Wilting point
    • Tensiometers
    • When to irrigate
    • Scheduling irrigation
    • When to irrigate
    • Cyclic watering
    • Pulse watering
    • Plant root depth
    • Irrigation type -flood, sprinkler, trickle etc.
    • Portable, permenant or travelling sprinklers
    • Sprinkler 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
    • Post-Harvest quality considerations
    • Harvesting hints
    • Post-harvest treatment of vegetables -field processing
    • Cooling
    • Quality standards
    • Monitoring and reviewing
    • Marketing
    • Business capabilities
    • Market research
    • Target marketing
    • Understanding economics


  • 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 seems 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 azedarach)
A spray made from the leaves steeped in boiling water (which is cooled before application) repels grasshoppers.
Eucalyptus Sprays
A 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 "overkill" 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.

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Bob James (Horticulturist)

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 Maste

Maggi Brown

Maggi 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 w

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

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 Depart

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