Crop Plan Intro 2011 & Third Year Summary
Prepared by ST on 10/6/11
The goal of producing the Crop Plan for NSF is to create documents that will aid in planting vegetables for three farmers markets. The plan will be based on the 2010 plan which gave us a good record of what and when vegetables were grown. This information also aids in our crop rotation plan. In 2011 new fields were opened up from fallow ground and new employees were added to the farm crew. Creating simple maps that include important information of the plan is vital for accurate record keeping. Calculating the amount of beds to be planted and where and when they would be planted is where I started.
Producing the crop plan will provide me an intimate relationship with crop varieties and quantities needed to run a successful small farm operation. In years past I have been involved with greenhouse production, crop care, planting, and marketing. My desire to create the crop plan has come from the dream to one day own a farm (or mange one) in the future. Deciding how much to plant, where to plant, and when to plant can be produced on paper; however the variability of the season always plays a factor. I have read many books on the subject (Eliot Coleman and John Jeavons being a huge influence) but actually implementing the plan in reality is the experiential learning I am searching for. This past season we experimented with winter production and extending the season. The results of that special project can be found on this website under “Special Projects”. This taught me that with perseverance and dedication good results will show however there are always realistic barriers in the way.
Grafted tomatoes in a hoop house will be another minor focus. Last year I experimented with this process with moderate success. This year I was determined to prove this method was valid and had the opportunity to grow in the farmhouse gothic hoop house, which had prime conditions for sunlight, size, and the ability to trellis the plants to 14 feet tall. The goal is to track worker hours and yield which will give us hard numbers to base its feasibility.
I love the local food industry, organic farming, and how they are all connected. Last winter I decided to take a part time job at a restaurant in New Hope, PA called Sprig and Vine. I worked as a dishwasher to understand the back of the house operations. During my work there I was able to form a relationship with the chef. It was not glamorous work but we had lively conversations about unique vegetables and local farming. Through talking with the chef and pouring over seed catalogs while working on the crop plan I had a eureka moment; growing vegetables for one local restaurant on a half acre. I discussed with MR and he provided guidance and support to “rent” a half acre from North Slope Farm. Alongside working on the crop plan for NSF I also created a plan for my own agricultural enterprise Blackbird Meadows.
This season had its challenges with unfavorable weather. The spring was very wet which led to a delay in being able to plow the ground. During the middle of the season we experienced very little rain with high temperatures. The end of the season went out with a bang as hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee left most of the Northeast flooded. Some of our crops got damaged and it ended the high yields on our tomatoes. The rain did not stop through September which left our fields fully saturated and we ended up with the same challenges as the beginning of the season. The crop plan was written during the winter without the knowledge of what the weather would be like. Dates for seeding in the greenhouse and out in the field would be our guideline to stay on track to supply for three farmers markets.
North Slope Farm has big garden beds, field beds, two hoop houses, and a heated greenhouse. The BigGarden Beds are 4 foot wide by 100 foot long. They are raised beds that get prepared with heavy compost application, broad forked by hand, and then roto tilled with a walk behind tractor. We build the soil with these techniques and they have proved useful by having good drainage and high germination rates. We generally plant lettuce, arugula, spinach, tat soi, and carrots in these beds. Sometimes quick crops such as radishes and turnips are also planted. We seed across the bed for easier hoeing and a higher intensity of crops. Our field beds are about 220 feet long and about 16 rows across. This equates to fields that are divided up into plots under a half acre. Each succession we plant takes up one of those plots. This allows for proper management for crop rotations. The hoop houses are used to extend the season. This year we planted grafted tomatoes in one hoop house and used the other hoop house to start the season with vegetables planted in the winter and to grow yardlong beans during the summer. Our heated greenhouse is for our seedlings for sale and to transplant out in the field.
We plant by phases of the moon. There is a lot of mysticism that surrounds this method but to me it has a very sobering effect on how to plan for the year. During the new moon we plant direct seeded crops in the greenhouse for transplants or out in the field (green beans, radish, turnips, carrots, lettuce, etc.). During the full moon we transplant our seedlings out in the field. Since the moon has an effect on gravity it is believed that the new moon keeps water closer to the surface due to lack of gravitational pull (which helps germination of direct seeded crops) and draws water down to the roots of transplanted crops during the full moon. These theories are being practicesed more indepthly through Biodynamics.
The plan for the field needed to be changed at the start of the season. The wet spring forced us to plant field crops into the big garden beds. We practiced intercropping kale with radishes and swiss chard with turnips. A month later we were able to get into the field to continue our original plan. Some seeding gaps in the plan reflect low yields and not enough vegetables for the market. We have determined that planting lettuce in our big garden beds will give us a constant supply of lettuce for the market, almost not having enough some weeks. There was a gap in planting lettuce by a month and a half. We felt the missed lettuce as did the customers at the market! Our 5th succession was also behind. We kept the 5th succession in the crop plan open to interpretation as the season went on. This proved ineffective because it produced another gap in seeding which left us short on supply around late august. The dates of seeded vegetables can be seen in the harvest summary. It is important to write out the full plan even if it changes to keep everyone on track. During July it is very busy. Tomatoes require a lot of attention and the farm is buzzing with activity. This is the time that following a plan drawn out during the slow winter months would provide beneficial guidance for the farm.
The grafted tomatoes were successful. We had tomatoes early, they were efficient to harvest, and produced a good yield for such a small space. For more information check the hoop house tomato post on this website.
Blackbird Meadows taught me a lot this year. I produced for one restaurant mostly by myself. I had about ¼ acre in production while the rest was in cover crop of clover, oats, and oilseed radish. I formed 25 beds on the half acre plot and planted vegetables in every other row. The other rows were planted in cover crop. This was an experiment that yielded mixed results. The downside was more management to the cover crops that did not produce income. The positive side resulted in weed suppression and hopefully better fertility and soil for next year. Working on the field after work at NSF and almost every weekend proved to me that agriculture is my passion. I was able to grow crops I was interested in (Chinese cabbage, baby carrots, head lettuce) and understand the weekly demands of a restaurant. This helped me fully realize the importance of a crop plan for projecting yields and keeping a steady supply of vegetables throughout the season. Blackbird Meadows ended early due to running out of space and challenging weather at the end of the season. I feel it was successful in truly understanding what it takes to run a small farm. I produced a website and documented everything I grew and harvested. This was a great addition to my resume and gave me the confidence to seek opportunities that will help me grow as a farmer.
3/4 – Seedlings first started in Heated Greenhouse
3/4 – Seeding for grated Tomatoes
4/6 – Planting for peas direct seeded in field
5/3 – First succession of carrots
6/1 – Missed opportunity to plant lettuce
6/29 – Crop failure for Radish and turnips (too hot)
7/1 – Missed opportunity for 5th succession transplants
7/6 – Winter Squash direct seeded
7/8 – First tomato harvest from Hoop House
8/23 – Last succession of transplants for the field
– Arugula amd Tat soi direct seeded in big garden beds