John Biernbaum, PhD

John Biernbaum


Telephone: (517) 353-0419

1066 Bogue Street, Room A440-C
East Lansing, MI 48824-1325

Area of Expertise:

Organic crop production; production and use of compost for fertility, transplant media and water extracts (tea) for managing soil and plant health.



Quick links: Education    Teaching    Publications    Extension    Research

Joined Department

August 1, 1985


60% University General
20% Michigan AgBio Research
20% MSUE


Ph.D., Horticultural Science, Michigan State University, 1985
M.S., Horticultural Science, The Pennsylvania State University, 1981
B.S., Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, 1979

Honors and Awards

  • Michigan State University "Be Spartan Green"  2015 Outstanding Faculty Award
  • Michigan Organic Food and Farming Alliance (MOFFA) 2004 Public Service Award
  • Honorary State Future Farmers of America Degree, 2003
  • Member of Floriculture Team that received the 2002 John Hannah Award for Program Excellence in Extension
  • Bedding Plants International 1998 Futura Award for Outstanding Teaching and Research
  • College of Agri. and Nat. Res. Student Senate Outstanding Academic Advisor  1997
  • Ohio Florists' Assoc. 1994 and 1996 Alex Laurie Award for Outstanding Research Paper
  • Professional Plant Growers Association National Publications Award 1992 and 1993
  • MSU Senior Student Council Outstanding Teaching Faculty Award for 1992
  • Michigan Floral Association, National Service Award for 1989


  • Waldman, Kurt, David Conner, John Biernbaum, Michael Hamm and Adam Montri.  2012.  Determinants of Hoophouse Profitability:  A Case Study of 12 Novice Michigan Farmers.  HortTechnology 22(2) 215-223.
  • Fisher, P.R., W.R. Argo, and J.A. Biernbaum. 2014. Validation of a fertilizer potential acidity model to predict the effects of water soluble fertilizer on substrate-pH. HortScience 49(8):1061-1066.
  • Biernbaum, J. 2011.  Four Season Farming and Learning.  In Fields of Learning: The student farm movement in North America. Ed Laura Sayre and Sean Clark. University Press of KY, 378 pgs.
  • Nair, A., M. Ngouajio, and J. A. Biernbaum. 2011. Alfalfa-based organic amendment in peat-compost growing medium for organic tomato transplant production. HortScience 46(2):253-259.
  • Montri, A. and J. Biernbaum. 2009. Management of the soil environment in high tunnels.  HortTechnology 19:34-36.
  • Biernbaum, J.A., Thorp, L. and Ngouajio, M. 2006. Development of a Year-round Student Organic Farm and Organic Farming Curriculum at Michigan State University.  HortTechnology 16(3):20-24.
  • Kelley, Kathleen M., Author Cameron, John A. Biernbaum, and Kenneth L. Poff. 2003. Effect of storage temperature on the quality of edible flowers. Postharvest Biology and Technology 27:341-344.
  • Kelley, Kathleen M., Bridget K. Behe, John A. Biernbaum, and Kenneth L. Poff. 2002. Combinations of Colors and Species of Containerized Edible Flowers: Effect on Consumer Preferences. HortScience 37(1):218-221.



I have taught an average of two courses per semester including 20 different courses and over 50 independent studies over 30 years.

For the academic year 2014-2015 I am teaching Greenhouse Structures and Operation (HRT 221, Fall), Organic Farming Principles and Practices (HRT 251, Spring), Compost Production and Use (HRT 253, Spring), Organic Transplant Production (HRT 243, Spring), and Passive Solar Greenhouses for Protected Cultivation (HRT 242, Spring). The last three are one credit each and taught consecutively for five week sessions with an on-line format.

Compost Production and Use (1 credit)

HRT253 Syllabus 2014

Organic Transplant Production

HRT243 Syllabus/Schedule - 2013 Online

Passive Solar Greenhouses for Protected Cultivation

HRT242 Syllabus/Schedule - 2013 Online

Organic Farming Principles and Practices (3 credits)

HRT251 Syllabus 2014
HRT251 Schedule 2014

Greenhouse Structures and Management



From 1998 to present I worked with undergraduate and graduate students to develop a vision, location, and funding for development and operation of a year-round, student operated, diversified, organic farm.  The current site has 15 total acres with 20,000 square feet under cover and 5 acres in  cultivation. Part of my role has been coordinating efforts to bring faculty and students from diverse academic departments together to build curriculum around the farm experience. Our emphasis is on both ecological farming and cultivating connections between the community and farmers.  In addition to the courses mentioned above I  previously taught Vegetable Production and Management (HRT 343, spring) for 5 years, a one credit course on organic certification (HRT 252, spring, 3 years) and a one credit course on culinary and medicinal herbs (HRT 244, summer, 3 years).

For more about the MSU Student Organic Farm please see:

From 1985 to 1998 I taught courses on: 1) Foliage Plant Production and Interior Plant Maintenance, 2) Bedding Plant Production, 3) Cut Flower Production, 4) Potted Plant Production, 5) Controlled Environments, 6) Principles of Horticulture Laboratory, and 7) Greenhouse Structures and Management.  I served as faculty advisor to Horticulture Club for 5 years (1985-1990).  I also participated in the Bailey Scholars Program and served as a convenor for the Senior Transitions course (8).  I helped revise the undergraduate horticulture curriculum with conversion from a quarter to semester system and again to reduce the number of courses.

Since 1985 I have mentored four doctoral and seven masters students and served on 10 additional thesis committees.


From 2007 to present my focus has been on production and use of compost for fertility, transplant media and water extracts (tea) for managing soil and plant health. In 2010 I began work on vermicomposting of campus food residue in uheated hoophouses / passive solar greenhouses.  In 2012 we started culinary herb production in a hoophouse on campus using food waste compost as the growing substrate.

From 1995 to 2007 my focus was on greenhouse production of edible flowers and culinary herbs; organic transplant production, and hoophouse/passive solar greenhouse winter production and harvesting of baby salad greens, year-round organic vegetable production.

To learn more about hoophouses please see:

From 1985 to 1995, my research investigated the effect of irrigation method and water quality on nutrient management in peat-based media to develop fertilization methods for peat-based media that minimized fertilizer use and runoff from greenhouses while mainting crop quality.

Extension & Outreach

My primary focus is providing educational programs and technical assistance for small-scale organic farmers through the MSU Student Organic Farm and MSU Extension. Key topic areas include season extension/hoophouses, compost production, organic transplants, intensive vegetable production including urban agriculture, and organic soil management.  

Current affiliations and partners include Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance (MOFFA), Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), Keep Growing Detroit, Edible Flint,  Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) and the Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference (NMSFC).

Also participate in the organization of the Michigan Organic Agriculture Conference and Organic sessions for the Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo.  I serve as a member of the MOFFA Board of Directors and as the education committee chair.

I am an affiliate of the MSU Center for Regional Food System.  Information about the Center's programs and activities can be found at

Starting in 2013 I am working as a partner in the development of a year-round teaching and outreach farm at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center.  To learn about the Center visit the website at:

From 1985 to 1995 our outreach helped reduce water and fertilizer runoff by over 50% in the greenhouse industry through improved fertilization, use of recirculating subirrigation system, management of peat-based root media; I presented invited grower presentations in 19 states over a five-year period.


Publications & Presentations for Download

Important: These materials are intended for use by students, educators, farmers and gardeners.  They are not intended for publication or distribution without permission of the author.

Closing the MSU Food Cycle Loop - Bailey GREENhouse and Urban Farm

MSU Student Organic Farm at the Horticulture Teaching and Research Center

Organic Farming 

Themophillic or "Hot" Compost

Worm or "Vermi" composting

Recommendations for Worm Composting for small scale intensive farming and gardening based on five years of research (2010-2014) with vermicomposting kitchen preparation residue in a passive solar greenhouse or high tunnel.

Hoophouses & High Tunnels

Organic Transplant Production

Vegetables and Season Extension including Cold Cellars


Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening


Urban Agriculture


Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC)

Launching a new teaching and incubator farm at the UPREC North Farm has been an important new effort for 2014.  Hiring a farm manager and assistant farm manager, developing a starting farm plan, and ordering and construction a hoophouse were completed by June 1.  The crew at the farm has made great progress since then.



Program Areas


Greenhouse production of organic vegetable transplants, edible flowers and culinary herbs.

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture

Organic transplant production, winter production and harvesting of baby salad greens, year-round organic vegetable production. Production and use of compost for fertility, transplant media and water extracts (tea) for managing soil and plant health. Effect of irrigation method and water quality on nutrient management in peat-based media; fertilization methods for peat-based media.