From the Ground Up

Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) - A Once in a Lifetime Experience

by Daniel Eggert

In the fall of 2016, I decided to take a trip to South Australia. This trip was not only about traveling the world and experiencing a new culture, but also gaining firsthand experience working on farms. I achieved both of these goals by signing up as a volunteer for the WWOOF program. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms.

I first learned about the program from a friend who was in the Peace Corps , who described WWOOF as a cheap way to travel and experience farm life. The program involves about 1600 hosts all over South Australia. It is a worldwide volunteer program, operating in over 100 countries. For a minimal membership fee, members are provided with the host list, contact information, and emergency traveler’s insurance. In exchange for 5-6 hours of your day working for the host, you receive basic necessities, like food, water, and shelter. Not all hosts are organic or even operated farms.

Building Rock Wall
WWOOF Living Quarters Revamped with Newly Built Rock Wall

I was in Australia for over two months and had contacted five different hosts for work. I run a side business as a carpenter, which allowed me to be more marketable to hosts, but also made their to-do lists much longer. A lot of the work included property maintenance, tending to gardens or livestock, and creative building projects. My favorite project and greatest achievement was building a winery for a host that ran an organic vineyard.

Built Winery
Winery Built with Recycled Materials 

The epicenter of my stay was Adelaide, South Australia. The hosts that I stayed with were all very gracious, open-minded people who had a wealth of knowledge to share. They ranged from young farmers in the agriculture industry, to retired entrepreneurs and teachers. Through these hosts and my experiences, I learned a lot about permaculture and biodynamics. Some topics of interest included composting, organic gardening, raising livestock, and wine/beer making.

South Australia, specifically the Adelaide region, is very well known for its wine production. There is such a wide range of microclimates that help diversify the wine and help winemakers create their own authentic blend after each vintage. Lots of homemade wine and beer, plus farm-to-table food have my taste buds missing Adelaide!

You are never too young or old to volunteer for a program like WWOOF. I met WWOOFer’s who ranged from 18 to 80, and each one had a burning passion to learn. The entire trip was an amazing experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Some of my achievements include seeing a goat birth twins, building a winery, and being featured in the South Australian Migration Museum exhibit. None of that mattered as much as the lifelong friendships and experiences I made with the hosts and amazing people along my journey.

Daniel Eggert WWOOF

Daniel Eggert is the Organic Brand Manager at Harris Seeds. He oversees the organic division which includes expanding the product line, contacting growers to ensure their success, helping with trial varieties, and expanding the brand presence within the organic community. Daniel is passionate about sustainability, becoming self-sufficient, and studying permaculture/biodynamic practices. He loves working at Harris Seeds and helping growers achieve success.

Handing Over the Reins

by Jeff Werner

My wife recently captured a photo of me and my son working the land on our farm. I was on a smaller tractor with a tiller working up soil for early spinach and daikon radishes. In the larger tractor was my son. He was working directly next to me using a chisel plow that is new to the farm.

My son is 14 years old and this spring he completed his tractor safety course sponsored by our local extension. After sharing the photo, my wife asked me why I was on the little tractor and our son on the bigger one. I told her simply that it was time. Time for what? Time to start handing over the reins to the next generation. Like days long ago when a father or grandfather would hand over the reins of the team of horses… in this case I am beginning to hand over the reins of a 175 hp tractor.

Spring Tilling Father and Son

I remember when I was my son’s age, my dad put me on our Farmall “M”. It was the largest tractor we had at the time and he told me it was time I learned to plow. I felt grown up and filled with purpose accepting this new responsibility. We had a 2 bottom John Deere #44 plow and he helped me get started on a fairly level field and from there I took off.

In order to keep my young mind interested in agriculture, my father’s plan to start handing over the reins was perfectly timed. Weeding, hoeing or even cultivating on the little Farmall Super “A” would not have held my interest for much longer. As my father began handing over tasks with greater responsibility and ownership, he let me continue plowing that spring because I was doing a good job. I would come home after school and I would quickly change my clothes, run out to fill the “M” up with gas, check the oil and grease the plow and off I would go to another field. That spring I was hooked on farming and agriculture because of the faith and responsibility my father had put into me.

So this was the year that I handed those reins off to my son just like my father did with me. I hooked him up to the chisel plow, gave him some pointers, and off he went. There comes a point when the next generation looks to us for more responsibility to take them to the next level. As parents, we need to recognize that and act timely to keep the interest in agriculture alive in our kids. 

Werner Farms

Over the last 35 years, our farm has accumulated larger equipment but the core values of family are still the same. My dad has since passed on but my mother has been able to speak with my son (her grandson) about working the land. Someday when my children will be leading the way, they too will be able to spot that time when my grandchildren will show interest in agriculture. It will be their responsibility then to hand the reins down to yet another generation.

I get to talk with so many great customers throughout the year here at Harris Seeds, and I know there are many dedicated family operations preparing to do the same thing that I am doing. Even if it isn’t always handing over the reins of a tractor, keeping our children and family engaged in growing can start much smaller than that. Empower your children, include them in the process, read through the catalog with them and let them pick out some varieties next season to plant on their own. By piquing their interest at just the right time, our families will be able to hand down the reins for generations to come.

Jeff Werner, Harris Seeds Jeff is the owner of Werner Farms, a diversified 115 acre, family run vegetable & bedding plant operation in western New York. Fresh market produce, cut flowers and plants are sold mainly through an onsite farm market & garden center, and at local farmers markets in the Rochester area. Jeff is a third generation Harris Seeds customer and is now the Assistant Vegetable Product Manager at the company. Since working for Harris Seeds since 2003, he has worn many hats and has gained experience in the germination lab, packaging, fulfillment, and trials. He remembers going to Harris Seeds as a child with his father and grandfather to pick up vegetable seeds and flower seeds for the farm. Many generations of Werners have trusted Harris Seeds to supply the seeds and plant material that enable their farm to succeed.

Solve Your Crop Watering Challenges with Drip Irrigation

by Kristen Andersen

One of the most important aspects of growing is also one of the most challenging: watering. In all production systems, it is important that the crop receives the appropriate amount of water at the right time and frequency. This can become an overwhelming task to accomplish when working with a variety of crop species at different growth stages as each will likely have a different water requirement. In certain situations, like when starting seedlings, hand watering will be the best choice; however, watering can be best accomplished using a drip irrigation system in many cases. These systems are efficient, easy to install, and customizable to meet your specific watering needs.

Drip Irrigation for Pepper Seeds

Irrigation system components vary depending on the growing environment in which they are used. Emitter stakes are a great option for greenhouse or nursery operations that care for a large quantity of potted plants, such as perennials. In these situations, a network of pipe runs alongside the pots and emitter stakes are attached directly to the pipe with customizable spacing. These emitters can provide a steady drip of water directly into the soil or spray a small area with water droplets. These options allow for customization of the system to meet specific crop needs and grower preferences. 

For field grown crops with high water demands, like peppers and tomatoes, a similar network of irrigation tubing can be used. In these cases, drip tape is most commonly used. Drip tape is a plastic tubing that has evenly spaced water emitter holes along the entire length of the tubing. It is typically placed on top of the soil, directly adjacent to the base of the plant, and is a great option for use with mulches. In landscaping irrigation systems, button drip emitters are a common choice. These drip emitters are attached directly to the main pipe, with spacing determined by the plant locations.

Drip irrigation systems make it easy to water a large area of plants at once and the emitters deliver a precise amount of water every time, making these systems reliable and easy to monitor. Irrigation systems can also be paired with fertilizer injectors or water timers that can make watering even more efficient and time-saving. Applying water precisely to the plant root zone minimizes the amount of water lost to evaporation and runoff, reduces the spread of certain pathogens, and limits the water available to weeds.

Drip Irrigation for Cabbage Seeds Drip Irrigation for Radish Seeds

When installing an irrigation system, don’t forget to include a water filter to prevent sediments from entering the lines and plugging emitters, as well as a pressure regulator and gauge to ensure that appropriate water pressure is maintained. If water pressure is too high, the system can be damaged; however, if pressure is too low, inconsistent amounts of water may be applied. In larger networks of irrigation line, valves can also be installed to permit selective watering of certain areas or to better manage water use and pressure. Another important consideration is the soil type in the irrigated area. Areas with lighter soils may require closer emitter spacing or a more frequent watering schedule.

While the initial installation of a drip irrigation system may seem intimidating, it is an investment with the potential for valuable returns and time savings. When properly maintained, a drip irrigation system can last many years and can be easily added to or modified to meet the changing needs of a production system. 
Kristen Andersen Kristen Andersen is the Trials Manager at Harris Seeds and GardenTrends. She has a Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding and Horticulture from Michigan State University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Plant Science from SUNY Cobleskill. Kristen comes from a multi-generational farm where she developed a passion for agriculture and gardening. She arranges all Harris Seeds trials at our location in Rochester, NY, as well as with grower cooperators located around the country, to ensure that we offer varieties and products of the best quality that will make our customers more successful.