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3rd Year Focus Introduction: Crop Care

May 15th, 2013 | Posted by Kyle in Crop Care | Training - (Comments Off on 3rd Year Focus Introduction: Crop Care)

 

Introduction to Crop Care

KG 5/15/2013

Intent-

Crop Care, especially weeding, is something that always seems to fall by wayside when the farm’s other priorities become more pressing. My intention in taking on this element in my third year is to be an advocate for our crops; trying to prioritize care where and when it is needed and keep track all of our crops’ needs. Another thing I’d like to focus on is trying to decrease worker hours spent weeding by keeping up on scuffle and wheel hoeing and making use of our mechanical cultivation options. The time spent rescuing crops from weeds by hand has a much high cost in time than if the weeds were addressed earlier. To help manage this I have created a Task List Form for a weekly field-walk in which I lay out the Crop Care jobs for the week with notes on priority and method of task completion.

Tasks and Responsibilities-

            Weed Control- Observation, prioritization, and deciding on the method of treatment for weeds, then working with the crew to accomplish tasks.

            Irrigation- Ensuring crops are receiving water regularly

            Mulching- Managing application of straw mulch. Certain crops receive straw mulch to smother weeds and prevent splash-back of soil.

            Trellising- Keeping up with the trellis needs of our crops

            Pest Control- Monitoring for pest damage in field crops and taking appropriate action

            Field Access/Field Clean Up- Keeping field edges mowed and fields clean of debris. Removing driptape, sandbags, and other items from field after use.

            Crop Cover- Managing our early/late season use of remay, plastic, hoops and sandbags

Third Year Introduction

May 15th, 2013 | Posted by RR in Training - (Comments Off on Third Year Introduction)

 

Introduction to 3rd Year Focus

RR 5/15/13

Intent-

My second year was spent focusing on greenhouse production. I found that it took a lot of time to manage and that I needing more training in other elements of the operation. So, this year, instead of focusing on one particular element, I want to be open to accomplishing tasks in as many elements as possible. To me, this means to be aware of what jobs there are to do (that no one else is assigned to) and to prioritize those jobs and finish them in a timely manner.  It also means that I’ll need to work with others so they may accomplish their tasks.  That being said, I do want to find jobs with in the elements that challenge me to operate machinery such as tractors, trucks, mowers, weed-whackers, tillers, and power tools.  These are the things that have frightened me in the past and I desperately need to gain experience with them.  My hope is that by the end of the year I would have the ability to continue working on these skills for a future job or training program.

 Tasks-

To be open and aware of different tasks around the farm, particularly those that I find challenging, and to do my best to complete the task.    

Introduction to Second Year Focus

May 15th, 2013 | Posted by toddh in Administration | Training - (Comments Off on Introduction to Second Year Focus)

Introduction to Administration

Written by Todd

5 /15/2013

Intent:

              Of all the key elements that North Slope farm is broken down into, Administration, is the one that I am drawn to the least. That is why I have taken the opportunity to make it my second year focus. It is my intention to gain a basic understanding of the administrative tasks of North Slope Farm. In doing so, I will be cultivating my relationship to these less exciting, but necessary aspects of managing a farm or small business. I expect that this focus will bolster my confidence for engaging in similar tasks in the future.

Tasks and Responsibilities:

              Balancing the check book, payroll, paying bills, record keeping, compiling data, data entry, filling out forms, filing paperwork, messages, email, general office upkeep, and much more that I’m sure remains to be seen. 

Greenhouse 2012 Summary

March 21st, 2013 | Posted by RR in Greenhouse - (Comments Off on Greenhouse 2012 Summary)

Greenhouse 2012 Summary

Heated Greenhouse

This structure held all our seedling successions for the farm and for sale. There was very bad aphid infestation, noticed in late March, and became full-blown a month later.  An OMRI-approved insecticidal soap, M-Pede, was bought and used according to the directions (except we found the hard way that certain flowers should not be sprayed).

Hoop-house

It’s the structure that transitions the seedlings from the heated greenhouse to the outdoor hardening-off tables. Plans to take down and re-purpose this structure began last season.

 The Farmhouse Gothic

            Beds were prepped for the first succession of market flowers in late March 2012. Sunflowers, zinnias were among the flowers grown in this greenhouse in the spring.  In August, the flowers were removed to make way for a late planting of tomatoes. They also received a minimal amount of tending and blight soon got them. Then Hurricane Sandy blew off the plastic covers.  It will be replaced in March 2013.

 Ralph’s House

            This greenhouse was home to kale and chard during the winter of 2011. Late April 2012, some of those plants were taken out due to an aphid infestation. Peas were then transplanted a little while later and were followed by a direct seeding of radishes. By mid May the chard that had remained had bolted and then removed. Rows and pathways in this greenhouse got a weeding and mulching in mid May as well. A week into June, most beds were emptied and were prepped for tomatoes.  They did well for the next few weeks despite aphids and minimal tending in July and August. Early September, blight was discovered on a few tomato plants. The farm manager cut down 1/3 of that bed and covered them well. The tomatoes received a little more tending before Hurricane Sandy.  This structure survived the super-storm, however, a week later, another storm with strong winds tore the plastic off. New plastic will also be added this March.

 My major focus

            Some personal interest goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year included soil testing and experiments with soil fertility. I didn’t get around to the soil tests, but I did the latter by way of making compost tea. Two different types were made by steeping stinging nettle and comfrey in water, and waiting two weeks. My memory recalls the results after application being favorable, but better data is required.

 Seedling sales

I attempted to increase seedling sales this year. After going over last year’s notes (2011), I reduced the varieties of seedlings offered for sale and upped production on those varieties that seemed popular. What resulted was a more streamlined set of seedlings being offered.  Varieties mostly consisted of tomatoes, beets, chard, kale, peppers and eggplants. Unfortunately, weather and aphids had it out for the plants and a lack of personal, practical labor and marketing experience decreased the sales. The dates of the sales to the account ranged from April 14 to May 9, 2012, for a total of 5 weeks.  During this time period the number plants sold did go up as there were more to offer, but again, since weather aphids, and my own bad judgment decreased the quality of the plants, sales didn’t last. The amount made from sales alone, not counting equipment or labor expenses, was $1456.00. Compared to 2011, when sales totaled $2368.00 (3/21/13 Edit: Wholesale accounts totaled $2573.00 in 2011 according to RC’s post below. I must have overlooked at least one week of sales, or am missing a different account) over the course of 10 weeks, only $272.00 more was made in half the time (in 2012)  as a result of having more plants available (3/21/13 Edit: Nope). So, technically the attempt was a success (3/21/13 Edit: False), but expenses, equipment, stress and the time it takes away from other areas, makes this project I personally wouldn’t try again.

CONCLUSION

Tend the plants everyday!

Special Focus – Irrigation 2012

March 21st, 2013 | Posted by toddh in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Special Focus – Irrigation 2012)

Special Focus – Irrigation 2012

Todd Posted March 21st 2013

Irrigation is yet another integral part of our farm operation. Unless there is a good rain fall, irrigation management is a daily task that follows a flexible weekly rotation based on areas of highest priority. The farm is divided into blocks that reflect the maximum amount of watering achievable within the operational pressure. A block is watered for a determined amount of time before being turned off and moving to the next. Within these blocks, there are basically three ways that we set up lines to accomplish our watering needs. All lines follow this order: the well pump to the main lines, main lines to sub-main lines, sub-main lines to drip lines.

Line Configurations

Field crops: 200 foot beds each planted with two rows. A single line of drip tape is used for these beds. A spool of drip tape is held horizontally in a wooden stand on a piece of rebar. It is stationed at the start of the bed and the line is pulled from this down the middle of the two crop rows to the far end. Attention is given that the tape is tucked beneath all plants. The tail end is then capped by cutting a section of the drip tape two to three inches long to act as a sleeve. The new end of the line is then folded over a couple times and inserted it into the sleeve (see picture). These lines are then secured to a thumb valve in the sub-main. Our flowers in the “579 field” also require only one line of drip tape.

Drip Tube End Cap

See Photo set for more detail

Big garden beds: 100 foot permanent raised beds usually very tightly planted. For these five lines of drip tube are used. This task is most easily accomplished with two people, starting with the center line and working outward to either side. One person at each end pulls the line taught then lays it straight and evenly spaced down the length of the bed. These lines are secured to a thumb valve in the sub-main and capped on the end with a plastic end cap. This could be a pressure valve that bleeds the line and automatically closes or a repurposed thumb valve. There are two beds of fruit trees, black berries, and asparagus. Each has two lines of drip tube that are treated the same way.

Green houses: We have two green houses for production, one 50 feet long the other 75. Each has four beds typically planted with two rows each and trellising down the middle. Two lines of drip tube are laid just outside of each crop, secured to a thumb valve in the sub-main, and capped with plastic end caps. Again this could be a pressure valve or a thumb valve. Our strawberry beds and the permanent beds in the “corner garden” area share the same configuration of two lines of drip tube.

Turning on

The well pump is turned on at the begging of the season and off at the end. The main line always remains in the same location. Sub-main lines along with the drip tubes are disconnected and stored together in the fields over winter. These lines are reassembled as we proceed through the planting secessions. When the season is in full swing the lines move very little, so irrigation is a matter of turning the correct valves on and off in the appropriate timing and making any repairs. Starting in the morning the main valve is turned on. This comes directly from the well. When starting a block the sub-main line is connected to the main line. All of the desired thumb valves are opened and the undesired valves are closed. Finally the valve from the sub-main to main line is opened. The lines will fill with water and begin to drip. It will take a few minutes for the system to pressurize and some air will be forced out of the end. The very end of all the lines must be checked for full pressure. Steady dripping can be seen at these furthest points. If all lines are functioning properly then the pressure gage at the sub-main main line connection is read and this information is recorded in the log along with the date, location, and duration. This log also contains any rainfall data that we have collected, which plays a role in our rotation.

If the line fails to pressurize and begin dripping, it is then walked backwards to the beginning. In this process all connections and valves are checked, along with checking for any holes or damages. The issue usually become obvious and is promptly resolved. Watering in the seedling greenhouse is typically done manually by the green house manager. This will result temporarily in a lower pressure reading but will not greatly disturb the irrigation rotation. If pressure still cannot be achieved and all lines have been checked and rechecked, then it could be that water is being used somewhere else however irrigation is usually given priority. The worst case scenario in the irrigation system would be a failure of the well pump. I did not experience anything like this.

Water Usage

On the more sophisticated side we have used water sensors that are buried in specific locations around the farm. Most times though, the soil moisture is assessed by picking a representative spot for a specific watering block, digging down a few inches to retrieve some soil, and pressing it between your fore finger and thumb.

 

Damage and Repair

Damage to irrigation will make its self known when turning on the water and walking the lines. Often the damage can either be seen or heard. All repairs are rather easy; it is a matter of assessing the damage and making the fewest and most affective repairs or alterations. Simpler is better. After that it comes down to timeliness for rejoining the crew with the other tasks at hand. Holes in lines are cut out and replaced with sections of new line where necessary and spliced together with an inline connecter. Often cutting out the hole and putting an inline connecter will fix it without having to add new drip tube or tape.

Most damage is due to the mower hitting lines, no irrigation components will withstand this. It is most common that the mower may take off the end caps of lines in the big garden beds, or hit lines that have been moved or stored in vulnerable locations. It is less common that the mower should hit component of a main or sub main. Repair requires removing damaged sections of lines or fixtures and replacing them.

The weed-wacker will break the red tabs on the thumb valves and the pressure gauges. The sun will also make the plastic tabs brittle. One way or another they will eventually break off. They will still be usable but it is important to note that the plastic can be sharp enough to cut ones figure when turning on an off. We prolong the life of thumb valves by using them as end caps when they are too difficult to turn.

Drip tape is far more easily damaged than drip tube. This most commonly occurs during harvesting with the harvest knives. This year an interesting issue was the amount of small holes chewed by animals in the drip tape of our furthest field. This happened during the hottest and driest time of the summer. We attempted to address it by providing water for the wildlife is an old sink that we set up on the edge of this field. Many of these lines still required repeatedly repaired.

Inventory

Water lines: Main lines, Sub main line, drip tube, drip tape

Hardware:   Main ball valves, aluminum quick connects and end caps, thumb valve, end caps, in line connects, pressure gage, main valve, hose clamps, 1” and ¾” plastic elbows, tee’s, reducers, and end plugs.

Tools: The tools consist of a utility knife, a hexagonal head screw driver for the hose clamps, the hole punch for adding thumb valves to sub main lines, and a roll of Teflon tape. These items are always carried in a small “job bucket”, hardware is added according to task.

Conclusion

Timing is important. I have forgotten and turned off irrigation late. This resulted in some flooding. Thankfully it was never too bad. On the other hand, by the time we are done transplanting a row in the fields in the middle of summer, all the plants look pretty wilted and sad. Irrigation must be available for them right away. By the time that they are turned off, they are standing up looking much happier and eager in their new homes. Also, turning the well pump on and off gives a clear sense of begging and ending to the season.

Second Year Summary: Planting Focus

February 25th, 2013 | Posted by Kyle in Planting | Training - (Comments Off on Second Year Summary: Planting Focus)

Prepared by KG on 2/25/2013

Second Year Element Summary – Planting 2012

In our second year at NSF, as part of the training program, interns are encouraged to choose a work element as a focus for the season. I chose planting because I wanted to get a thorough understanding of what is ultimately the main goal of farming; growing food. One of the motivations driving me to farm is the desire to see all aspects of the production process, to see my role in it, and to be able to take satisfaction from producing a product from start to finish. Within the farm’s system the planting element especially encompasses that scope, from planning, through production, to the final product at the end of it.

Planningplanning planting 2012

The first task for the season was to create a crop plan. The crop plan lays out a rough schedule for the course of the season and helps to keep the farm on track as the pressure mounts. My plan was based off previous crop plans, especially Steve’s (ST) from 2011 for which much documentation was available, modified by having additional land in cultivation and the analysis of the 2011 season. Following NSF’s system of succession planting and incorporating our crop rotation I created a plan that had 6 main field successions plus a field tomato planting. In addition I planned to have regular salad seedings in the BGBs every two weeks, as well as carrots, radishes, turnips, and other greens as the season suited.

 

Once I had this rough plan I could start doing some calculations for the seed order. Thanks to Rita (RR) for doing an inventory of the seed the farm had in stock, making sure we didn’t order more of something we already had too much of. Figuring out the right quantities to order could be tricky at times as there isn’t really a standardized unit of measurement for seed, even within a single seed catalog you can find some seed measured by weight and others by count and we use 3-4 sources for our seed. A rule of thumb we often used was after all the calculations, double the amount to be safe. Our initial order was around 2,000 dollars, which got us through most of the season. The season’s total was around 3,000 dollars for seed.

One of the perks of taking on the planting element is selecting varieties. NSF has a cohort of tried and true crops and varieties that need to find there way into the crop plan, but there is some room for experimentation. I was happy with both the leeks and the Napa cabbage which were added to the plan this past season. The leek seems to be a good candidate to replace the scallion as an allium we can offer; for us scallions are a drain in labor hours for harvesting and handling that the market price doesn’t reflect. Leeks on the other hand require less time to prepare for market. I’m excited to try leeks again using a technique I saw Elliot Coleman present at the NOFA-NJ winter conference that doesn’t require hilling, simply by transplanting the seedlings in deep holes the same effect is achieved. The Napa cabbage was another hit, we got a decent yield even during heat waves, but they really shined later in fall when we got some real giants and more cabbage then we knew what to do with.

Planting

Once the plan is made and the seeds have arrived the growing can begin. Our first official day of the season was March 6th, and by the 8th peas were being seeded. More peas were seeded in the field on 3/21 as was our first BGB succession and the first succession of field vegetables were transplanted out on 4/6, which was all right on time according to the plan! For the most part I feel like things went fairly smoothly, although the plan changed as the season progressed. In my memory the weather on a whole was not as wet as 2011 and we faced fewer delays due to wet fields.

The exception to this might have been our field tomato planting. We tried a new method on NSF for tomatos this past season, inspired by the practice of no-till farming we sought to use a minimal tillage technique. In place of the standard practice of preparing field beds we cut furrows through the cover cropped field, filled the furrows with compost, and transplanted directly into that. In this manner we only tilled the soil where the transplants would go, leaving as much of the field’s soil biology as undisturbed as we could. Unfortunately we used a shank that was more aggressive than we need and ended up with trenches deeper than we needed. Then in the first weeks following the transplanting we got a bit more rain than we would have liked and the furrows in our heavy clay soil held water like troughs. The result was transplant shock and nearly all of our tomatoes turned a very unhealthy looking yellow. The prospect of our field tomato succession failing was frightening as tomatoes are a huge part of our market revenue, so it wasn’t long before panic set in. I sought to plant more tomatoes, but by June it’s a bit late to start new tomato seedlings. Luckily RR had a small but diverse selection left over from her seedling sales at market. We planted tomatoes everywhere we could, both Ralphs House and Farm House Gothic, some pilfered beds from the 579 flower field, and even a small space on the fringe of the farm which hadn’t been used in some time. In the end the original tomatoes bounced back after a few weeks of dryer weather and some compost tea delivered via our new mobile water tank w/ PTO pump. The delay in growth cost us, we were a few weeks late in hitting our tomato stride, but after experiencing all those yellowing adolescent plants it was a relief just to have tomatoes producing at all.

 

The vegetable succession went more smoothly. Successions 1-3 did well and were on time. We did abandon some scallions to the weeds in the 2nd. In our 2nd and 3rd succession the kale and chard held on well past what was planned, letting us supplement the later successions. We had the idea to mow off some of the old chard above the root, MR let me try it, and the results weren’t too bad. For the 5 minutes it took to mow we got some re-growth we were able to harvest for a few more weeks. The cabbage in the 3rd succession provided some yield, even as it battled the heat of the summer. The 4th succession went a bit less smoothly, much of the direct seeded crop failed to get good germination and we were short on the transplants. This led to some lighter than ideal harvests some weeks, but with the supplemental crops from 2nd and 3rd succession we did our best to get our harvests.  A bitter-sweet windfall we got to harvest some purslane from the 4th succession field where beets had failed to germinate. We lingered in the 4th succession field, extending its use by reseeding in the beds were crops had failed. As a result we ended up planting only 5 successions total. In the 5th succession we had a lot of space for direct seeding, after my experience direct seeding the 4th succession with poor results I was anxious to try again. One weekend in mid-September I went out with a bucket of seed and the old 4-point seeder which has fallen out of favor at NSF, in what I presumed to be futile gesture, did seed 10 beds in various greens, radishes, and turnips. I remember it took me quite a while to set up the irrigation afterwards. Within a couple of weeks the field was filled with green in nice straight rows, everything was germinating! Totally bucking my expectation, the direct seeding worked better than I could have asked for. I was very proud of that final succession.

For the Big Garden Beds I wanted to really solidify salad production and they key to doing that at NSF is planting 2 beds of salad every two weeks. We ended up doing 13 successions of plantings this past season. Space in the BGBs got cramped at some points so it will be nice bringing the new BGBs into production this coming season. I felt like we did a good job of keeping on track with our salad successions as far as planting every two weeks throughout the season. We had salad at points when no one else at WWCFM did and only really missed one seeding date in late July/Early August. Really nailing down germination would be a big thing for BGB production. We also had a good amount of carrots especially late season, we kept up planting to take us into winter.

CONCLUSION

I learned a lot in this past year focusing on the planting element, this summary barely scratches the surface of the experience I had and gained. Above all, it was certainly enjoyable and fulfilling to work on an element which spans so much of the farm’s activities. By taking on the planting element I got a preview of what managing a small farm entails, and got to take a shot at doing a lot of it and learning through practice. I look forward to my third year here at North Slope and to continuing to hone and develop my skills as a farmer.

Food Safety Upgrades in 2012

January 24th, 2013 | Posted by miker in Handling - (Comments Off on Food Safety Upgrades in 2012)

Food Safety Upgrades in 2012

Farm Manager MikeR completed a 3 hour NJ Department of Agriculture “Third Party Audit Training” course, organized by NOFA-NJ.  The take home message was;

“Easily Accessible Hand Washing Station with Disposable Hand Towels”

Basically there are alot of bacteria (etc) in the world that can make us sick, and most of them are just a few steps away from anybodys food.  To keep our food safe it is critical that we avoid contamination!  Organic Practices regulate the application and management of potential contaminants in the field and greenhouses.  A common secondary source of contamination comes from workers dirty hands, dirty wash water and unsanitary handling facilities.

In 2012, at North Slope Farm, we invested in a new floor for our washing area, installed by Jason Barger.  Likewise Manager Mike managed to maintain the season with hand soap and disposable towels available at our hand washing station every work day.  Ecologically minded folks often scorn paper towels but they do seem to be a simple, basic method for cleaning up after ourselves.  As a sanitizing cleaner we use Seventh Generation Non-Chlorine Bleach, diluted as directed for household cleaning of stainless steel surfaces.

Click on the Photo below to access a short set of Photos to highlight our 2012 effort to improve our Food Safety situation;
Food Safety 2012

Equipment Purchased in 2012

January 24th, 2013 | Posted by miker in Equipment - (Comments Off on Equipment Purchased in 2012)

Equipment Purchased in 2012

The following items are significant additions to the Equipment of North Slope Farm’s Training Program and basic production systems.  The Cultivating Tractor has a three point hitch which finally allows us to utilize our Williams Tool Bar for close crop cultivating.
Case IH 265
PB080059

The Earth and Turf Multi Spreader has proven to be an excellent, reliable (Ground Driven) compost spreader.  It allows one worker to accomplish what previously took three workers to do by hand.  In first gear on our Tractor, and fully open (beaters removed) on the spreader, a full load empties nicely over two beds (down and Back).  Each bed needs two passes to apply our typical 1.5 cyds per bed, I do one pass in one direction and the return in the other direction to average out vagaries in spreading.
Multispreader 320

Finally, I broke down and bought a new model, walk-behind mower, because our old Bachtold mower was viewed with such disdain and fear by Trainees as to be worthless.  After asking around I went with the Billy Goat Outback, Brushcutter and in the few times we’ve used it, the BillyGoat was easier to use, though not as aggressive.  We will modify the skids to get the deck closer to the ground for a more aggressive cut.  The new mower allows the Manager to assign any trainee mowing jobs without fear of accident or burnout!
Walk Behind Mower

Marketing

October 2nd, 2012 | Posted by miker in Marketing - (Comments Off on Marketing)

Marketing

PA170698Click on photo, then select the Set it is part of, then select “slideshow” for detailed Market set-up..

Marketing includes Wholesale, retail, subscription, contract and other forms of connecting consumers with our product.  North Slope Farm is currently focused on Retail sales at Farmers Markets.  We harvest and handle the products, then load up our truck and try to sell out.  Critical to successful marketing is great record keeping and great people skills.  For us to succeed we focus on colorful, diverse displays that are easy to replenish and for customers to comfortably serve themselves.

Introduction to Second Year Focus

September 19th, 2012 | Posted by RR in Greenhouse - (Comments Off on Introduction to Second Year Focus)

Greenhouse Element Introduction

Written by: Rita

Date: 4/12/12

Intent: To continue the management practices of greenhouse productions at North Slope Farm.

Parameters: As a certified organic farm, we operate under organic standards and procedures from NOFA New Jersey as well as the USDA.  To uphold these organization’s requirements for organic certification, our greenhouse management practices do fit within their standards. In addition those standards, there are more greenhouse management responsibilities implemented by the farm. Both requirements will be outlined below, starting with certification standards, followed by farm greenhouse management responsibilities.

Certification Standards include:

  1. Having a greenhouse with either a bench system or in-ground production system as defined in the NOFA NJ organic standards and procedures booklet.
  2. Having each greenhouse inspected when necessary.
  3. Filling out a form on the certification packet for each greenhouse.
  4. Record Keeping of:

Greenhouse Structures

  • -Keeping records of the greenhouses in their current structural form and updating those records when a structure is added or changed.
  • -Our heated seedling greenhouse and hoop-house use a bench system with plastic glazing. This glazing must be replaced every three years.

Materials, Potting Mixes and Applied Substances  

  • -All materials will be approved substances and the use of which will be recorded in a daily log or end-of-year inventory list.

Farm GH Management Responsibilities include:

  1. Care and Maintenance: Maintaining tables and internal design, clutter control, weeding floors, glazing replacement
  2. Making Orders of: Approved: seeds, materials, potting mixes, applied substances
  3. Seedling Care: Watering, ventilation, hardening-off, pest control, filling out seeding sheets and sticking to successions
  4. Working with Farm Manager and Planting Manager: To ensure their plans are upheld according to the limits of the greenhouses
  5. Daily Log: Will be used to record greenhouse operations on a day-day basis.
  6. Year-End Summaries of: Supply Inventory, seedling successions (varieties, amounts and dates seeded), special orders, greenhouse efficiency, personal experience and assessments