A tractor fork moving 50 lb bags in front of a barnBy Richard Robinson, Farmer at Hopestill Farm, and the NOFA/Mass Bulk Order Team

For me, the arrival of the NOFA Tri-State Bulk Order is, like the arrival of the seed catalogs, a harbinger of spring, and an opportunity to stock up on things I know I will use all season long. The bulk order also appeals to the Yankee in me, because I know I will get great prices, especially with the member discount, and loading up my pick-up with a season’s worth of soil amendments feels like thrift rewarded. There are hundreds of items to choose from, for the back yard or the back 40. 

Here are some NOFA member favorites:

  1. SulPoMag (aka K-Mag). One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past decade is the importance of potassium for great fruit production. If you’ve got tomatoes with yellow shoulders, or your fruit is not filling out like you remember it used to, chances are your soil has, like mine did, gotten low on potassium. SulPoMag, also called K-Mag, is a natural mineral that supplies both potassium and magnesium (also prone to depletion in intensive vegetable production). Check your soil test results to see if you need some. Have plenty of magnesium? You can order potassium sulfate instead.
  2. Pro-Hemp 5-3-9. This is a blended organic fertilizer specifically formulated for hemp growing. It can be spread in bulk for field sowing or added to the transplant hole if you are transplanting your plants. 
  3. Tomato stakes. Field-grown tomatoes need staking, and Laura Davis, of Long Life Farm, notes that stakes aren’t always easy to find locally. That’s why she relies on the bulk order to stock up for the year. If you haven’t seen the speed demons on YouTube zipping down the row doing their Florida weave, check out this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cm7TxaMnvKo
  4. Monterey Garden Spray (Spinosad). I have not yet had a year without potato beetles, and while I begin the season with row cover and then hand pick when the larvae show up, most years I need to use a spray to keep my yields up. David, our Bulk Order Coordinator, and farmers in his network have had big success with use against flea beetles. One farmer I know recommends one year of Bt, the next year of Spinosad, and the third year moving to a distant field. (I forgot to order mine through the Bulk Order one year, and was very disappointed with the results from the same product obtained from a local shop; I’m guessing it was not stored properly before sale.)
  5. Worm Castings. Full of diverse nutrients and microorganisms, worm castings can be used directly as a densely concentrated version of compost or brewed into an aerated tea, multiplying the beneficial organisms into the billions for foliar applications. Sister Anna Muhammad incorporated them into youth education this year and got a big boost to flavor and productivity of their summer squash.
  6. Potting soil. Even soil has been affected by supply chain issues – while we are not able to offer Ideal due to peat moss shortages, the catalog this year will again include perennial favorites from Vermont Compost and Earth Care Farm. For both experienced growers and beginners, starting your seedlings in the best potting mix is the key to rapid growth and healthy plants.
  7. Cover crop seed. Each growing site will benefit from its own custom cover crop plan, and the bulk order offers a wide range to tailor to your needs. NOFA even has its own custom long-rotation regional blend through FEDCO, a diverse cocktail that mimics natural diversity, encourages a flourishing and balanced microbial population and takes some of the fine-tuning work off your shoulders! If you’re not sure what your soil needs, the NOFA/Mass Soil Technical Assistance team may be able to help – email soilhealth@nofamass.org with questions. 
  8. Low-cost nitrogen. The Bulk Order offers several organic sources of nitrogen, including alfalfa meal, blood meal, feather meal, and others. Blood meal is a quick-release source, often used early while the soil is cold. The others are slower to break down, offering a more even source of N through the season. I choose my slow-release N based on cost per pound of N (not per pound of the supplement itself). Some years that’s feathers, some years it’s cottonseed, some years it’s something else. You might also try Nature Safe’s 13-0-0, a blend of fast and slow nitrogen products that I use in small quantities whenever I plant or transplant.

If you’re ready for your best growing year yet, order from the NOFA Tri-State Bulk Order in 2022. Ordering opens January 1.

Preview last year’s catalog here: http://www.nofabulkorder.org/

*originally written and posted in January 2019. Updated and reposted December 2021  ’cause it’s still great info!