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Second Year Summary – Planting, Dan DeLago 2016

March 23rd, 2017 | Posted by miker in Planting - (Comments Off on Second Year Summary – Planting, Dan DeLago 2016)

Planting Focus Summary 2016 – Dan DeLago

 

Goals 2016

Minimizing tillage and attempting to provide constant cover for the soil via intercropping

were two major goals in the spring. In this passage I will discuss the various techniques

applied to achieve these goals and potential improvements for the future.

 

2015

A chisel plow, discs and roto-tiller were applied to prepare ground for fall cover crop

blocks. These were seeded with a mix of winter legumes and grasses. A potential improvement to this method of whole field tillage would be pasture cropping. Colin Seis’s operation near Sydney, Australia has developed this operation which integrates perennial crop mixes with intensive rotational grazing. This method requires several years between vegetable crops. However, between vegetable crops pastured ruminants and grain crops are harvested.

Attempts to reduce tillage heading into winter included broadcasting cover crop mix on production blocks cleaned of debris from previous flower and tomato crops. Compost applied via compost spreader covered the seeds. Germination was good in these trials and the cover crop stand was relatively free of unwanted plants. In November, garlic was planted in the furrows which previously grew tomatoes. Through this method, one round of soil preparation served two crops. The garlic bulbs were covered with 6”+ of straw. A modification of this approach would be to intercrop with several species of clover to feed the crop and provide ample shade for the soil surface during spring.

 

2016

In March, a mix of roots and peas were planted in raised beds. As the previous winter crops were harvested, bare soil was left. With brief hand weeding the beds were prepped and seeded without tillage and a robust crop of sugar snap peas was reaped by early May. Maintaining constant soil cover on beds being harvested in late fall can be difficult as conditions do not favor planting cover crop. To prevent winter erosion, I would personally suggest experimenting with some form of mulching. We experimented with sheet mulching this year to decent success. This included layers of manure (green or ruminant), sheets of cardboard, a very shallow layer of compost to breakdown the carbon rich mulch, and wood chips. When inoculated with King Strophoria (Garden Giant) mushroom spawn, a good yield of fungus can be harvested in spring and fall.  A simpler method would be covering production areas with leaves and layers of old hay toprevent leaves from blowing away.

 

As the annual rains reduced our ability to do tractor work in the majority of the operation, preparing raised beds for mid April planting relied heavily on tillage to breakdown mature cover crop residue.  Planting into thicker residue was the result. An improvement to our practices would be to plant raised beds with winter kill cover crops.  Incorporating winter kill legumes, oats and other green manures may allow for reduction or elimination of fertilizer input. I am personally a big fan of broad forking as a means of ensuring soil aeration. However, it does take a significant amount of time and energy.  During May, the decomposing residue retained moisture despite a lack of rain and it was clear that the crops were very healthy. As day temperatures began to exceed 85 degrees, we experimented with solarization; using “waste” pieces of greenhouse plastic.  Beds were mowed and solarized, effectively killing all residue. We would then till the residue and plant. A modification of this technique to prevent tillage would be inserting transplants directly into the crop residue. In experimental plots we tried inserting transplants directly into solarized soils aerated with the action of the broad fork. This worked well. Direct seeding is more difficult as the hand seeders are unable to breakthrough residue. BCS attachments capable of crimping residue, cutting residue, and jab planting seeds would make direct seeding into solarized or crimped cover crop easier for small scale operations.

 

As the season progressed, the solarization technique was useful for rapidly turning over crop residue, but the rear tine tiller was still employed for every preparation. Our typical method of field bed preparation included ripping a 12” deep furrow with the IH 140, compost and fertilizer application, followed by several rounds of tillage with the Case 265 – 36” tiller attachment and/or 18” BCS rear tine tiller attachment. Modifications to these practices would be the implementation of a rotary power harrow for both walk behind and tractor attachment. The rotary power harrow horizontally mixes the soil surface without pulling unwanted seeds up from deeper depths. For late germinating crops (beets and carrots), a flame weeder was applied about 5-7 days after seeding.  Occulation with an opaque fabric after tillage encourages germination of weeds, especially when soil moisture is scarce. It would also be interesting to determine if occulation after tillage prevents carbon dioxide from leaching into the atmosphere.  Compost is traditionally covered to prevent nutrient release into the atmosphere so the same principle should apply… in theory.  Although the techniques listed above to reduce tillage were fairly effective, the application on a large scale is difficult to envision without the use of tractor implements or grazing ruminants. The key line plow has been developed for deep soil aeration and can/has been combined with a seed drill, fertilizer applicator and compost tea applicator to jumpstart soil health on degraded and compacted land. Seeding a diverse crop including grasses, legumes, mustards, brassicas, roots, chenopods, herbs and dynamic accumulators would be beneficial for feeding soil, especially if combined with intensive rotational grazing techniques.

I was interested in experimenting with intercropping in the beginning of the season as a means of providing constant soil cover to reduce evaporation of soil moisture. Our cover cropping techniques included hand broadcasting a cocktail of buckwheat, vetch, peas, clover and wheat after tillage of pathways. This typically occurred when the next production block was maturing. In this fashion, we could mow the flowering cover crop after harvesting had ceased. Another method for cropping pathways was simply spreading clover seed before mowing. This technique allowed mineral rich plants such as plantain, burdock, dandelion and chicory to act as a nurse crop for the legume seed.

 

Intercropping using polycultures seems to be an effective means of maximizing space. I have personally been experimenting with the meso-american polyculture of corn, beans and squash for 5 years. Traditionally these milpa systems produced a wide variety of plants in addition to the three sisters (ie. sweet potatoes, chiles, tomatillos, melons, flowers, leafy greens, herbs, small grains, young trees etc).  Complementary architectures of both foliage and roots, allows for satisfactory distribution of nutrients, moisture and light. The diversity of root exudates further enhances soil biology. Granted it would be very inefficient for a farm paying people to stumble through a corn jungle to harvest melons, but complex polycultures  should be common place in cover crops.

 

Schedule of Planting – 2016

3/16 – Peas*, Carrots*, Turnips*, Radishes*

3/16 – Hi Tunnel Production – Cabbage, Lettuce, Spinach, Collards, Turnips, Kale,

Chard, Tatsoi

4/6 – Turnips*, Lettuce*, Radish*, Carrot*

4/11 – Broccoli, Cabbage, Tatsoi, Chard, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi

4/19 – Onions, Lettuce*

4/21 – Potatoes, Beets, Scallions

4/22 – Hi Tunnel Production – Zinnias, Sunflowers, Dill, Statice

4/29 – 44 Apple Trees, 18 Peach Trees

+ 1/2c 6-0-6 fertilizer, heavy compost application, 10 gallons water with 1:40

concentration kelp meal liquid fertilizer

5/2 – Hi Tunnel Production – Interplanting tomatoes in spring greens

5/3 – Hardy Kiwi on arbor

5/9 – Lettuce*, Carrot*

5/19 – Lettuce*

5/20 – Tulsi, Hyssop, Lemon Verbena, Spearmint, Rosemary, Lavender, Echinaceae,

Thyme, Sage, Anise, Oregano

5/21 – Parsley, Celery, Squash*, Parsley, Beans*, Corn*, Kohlrabi, Chard, Kale, Fennel,

Scallions, Cabbage, Beets, Cucumbers*, Radishes*, Zinnias, Celosia, Gompherna

6/1 – Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, Tomatillos

6/2 – Lettuce*, Zinnias, Squash*, Beans*, Marigolds

6/3 – Turnips*, Carrots*

6/4 – Corn

6/14 – Leeks, Onions, Radishes*, Kale, Chard, Beets, Fennel, Scallions

6/20 – Lettuce*

6/28 – Lettuce*, Tatsoi*, Carrots*, Chard*, Kale*, Scallion*, Fennel*, Beans*, Zinnias*

Radishes*, Beets*

6/30 – Winter wheat*, Buckwheat*, White clover*, Red Clover*, Peas*, Vetch*

7/5 – Hi Tunnel Production – Yard Long Beans*

7/8 – Corn

7/12 – Lettuce*

7/23 – Lettuce*

8/3 – Red & White Clover*

8/5 – Lettuce*

8/10 – Cabbage*, Kale*

9/1 – Lettuce*, Arugula*, Tatsoi*, Cabbage*, Turnips*, Mizuna*

9/22 – Lettuce*

9/29 – Lettuce*, Tatsoi*, Turnips*, Arugula*

*direct seeded

Overall Summary

Over the course of the year, I realized that my goal in pursuing a career in regenerative agriculture was to develop a holistic understanding of the watershed services of farmland and to find the most effective strategies for protecting our living waters. Rain water infiltration, percolation and purification through topsoil formation should be one of the primary goals for all farmers. The improved health of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, better food and water quality, the growth of economic assets (topsoil and water) and an effective strategy for fighting climate change/desertification are a few of the benefits of building soil. Learning the on ground application of retaining rain water in soils was a major motivator for myself in hindsight. In this essay I will discuss the importance of eliminating tillage, building soil organic matter and maintaining soil cover as it relates to the health of watersheds.

 

Ray Archuleta’s (NRCS-South Carolina) soil slake test shows clearly that soil aggregates are key to providing a resilient soil structure. Soil pores, whose structure is held via organic “glues” (ie. glomalin) and via the structure of fungal hyphae, are key to soil health (Sylvia et al., 2005). These pores slowly percolate water, creating a favorable microclimate for soil microorganisms, which are key players in nutrient cycling. Tillage eliminates the porous structure of the soil and therefor infiltration.

 

Soil organic matter (SOM) is oxidized through tillage and therefor released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases at various concentrations relative to different tillage operations (Al-Kaisi and Yin, 2005). Because soil organic matter absorbs moisture like a sponge, up to 20 times its weight in water, eliminating tillage improves the water and nutrient uptake efficiency of plants (Johnson et al., 2005). The water retention capability of SOM plays a crucial role in the health of our watersheds. Percolation allows for a prolonged release of freshwater into our creeks, streams and estuaries without the deposition of sediment, which all too often results in eutrophication and marine dead zones; a huge problem for marine ecology (ie: the Gulf of Mexico).

 

Gabe Brown of North Dakota has seen a 250-300% increase in soil organic matter, a 16 fold increase in water infiltration (1/2”/hr to 6”/hr) and 90% reduction in fertilizer application using no-till and intensive rotational grazing techniques (extension.psu.edu, 2014). Using very diverse cover crop mixes, as proven by Dr.Ademir Calegari, the Brown’s crop and rangeland remain constantly covered. With constant cover the temperature of the soil never gets so high as to affect soil microbiology or evaporation/transpiration rates of the crops (Chavez NRCS 2010).

 

Another piece of research to mention in regards to the prevention of eutrophication is STRIPS (Science-Based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips). STRIPS can have a major impact in reducing erosion and nutrient leaching. STRIPS researchers concluded that if 10% of a production field was converted to native prairie strips nitrogen loss was reduced by 80%, phosphorous by 90% and sediment loss by 95% (5,000 lbs of soil/acre) (Dell-Harro, 2015). The benefits of having living roots in the soil and carbon covering it are numerous. In the end, I hope this essay expresses the holistic value of living soils as they relate to our crop land, watersheds and marine waters.

 

References:

Al-Kaisi and Yin. 2005. Tillage and crop residue effects on soil carbon and carbon dioxide emission in corn-soybean rotations. Journal of Environmental Quality.

 

Chavez. 2010. Soil Management Strategies for Improving Air Quality and Enhancing Energy Efficiency. NRCS Document, pp. 31. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs144p2_068331.pdf

 

Dell-Haro. 2015. The Benefits of Native Prairie Strips. Mother Earth News. April-May edition.

 

Penn State Extension. Brown’s Ranch: Farming in Nature’s Image to Regenerate Land, Productivity and Quality of Life. Sustainable Agriculture. April 2014. extension.psu.edu

 

Johnson et al. 2005. Greenhouse gas contributions and mitigation potential of agriculture in the central USA. Soil and Tillage Research, pp. 73-94.

 

Sylvia et al. 2005. Principles and Applications of Soil Microbiology, 2nd Edition. Prentice Hall.

Second Year Element Focus Introduction – Planting

March 23rd, 2017 | Posted by miker in Planting - (Comments Off on Second Year Element Focus Introduction – Planting)

Dan DeLago – Second Year Focus Introduction – Planting

Dan Delago – 2016

Element Focus Introduction; Planting

When taking responsibility for an element focus this year, several considerations were taken into account. The size and experience of the next year’s crew, the priority of said element to the farm, the time of season the element takes precedent and the personal appeal of each element were a few. In the end, the element of planting was chosen. The main motivations are; to influence a strong start to next season, to prepare for planting throughout the season with attentiveness, the personal appeal of seeds and their stories, and last and most important, to promote the philosophy of earth care in one of the most integral elements of farm existence.

If the farm is a machine, the seeds are the sparkplug. The importance of seeing seedlings push out each new stage of growth is vital for a beginning and/or experienced crew. Ensuring these seedlings have strong roots by planting time provides crop security. The early spring months are when the pace of the farm season is set and having a smooth transition from startup to planting seemed to be a logical area to focus my attention.  Appealing to the 6 P’s of success (proper preparation prevents piss poor performance), I surmised that planting would be the one element which invariably leads to some measure of success with proper preparation. In winter, said planning manifests itself in the form of next season’s seed order. Determining the amount of seed for each crop was done by examining the previous year’s planting records. With this information, I compiled the total foot of row to be planted in each crop, the amount of seed required (direct seeding requires more seed than transplanting) and the approximate time at which planting is to occur. During the season, land must be prepped weeks ahead of planting. It was my observation that the manager often had too many things on the farm plate to be prepared for each planting date (based upon moon cycles). As an element focus, I will actively advocate for crew hours and attempt to adhere to planting schedules as much as possible.

Innately, the ethno-botanical significance of plants and their seeds appeals to me. Considering the dubious nature of our current food systems, it is more important than ever for people to reconnect to food. In my opinion, nothing prevents over-consumption and waste more effectively than having an intimate relationship with the plants, fungi and animals that sustain us. As farmers, we provide clean, local food which inherently reduces the consumers’ ecological footprint, but most importantly, we provide a story which instills a sense of reverence for the foodstuffs consumed. As a grower, I enjoy the story of the seeds whose domestication can be traced tens of thousands of years and often holds a profound cultural importance beyond which our consumer culture can understand.

As I stated previously, the philosophy of earth care was a major consideration in deciding to manage planting. In the one year I have been exposed to diversified organic farming, I have observed the importance of soil ecology. In my opinion the success of annuals and perennials (and our planet) is merely a derivative of the health of the soil. Cover crops provide numerous benefits to ecology; provide pollen for insects, sequester several tons of carbon dioxide per acre, reduce water requirements of annuals and perennials when inter-cropped successfully, and provide fertilizer in biomass thereby building a healthier soil so plants don’t require fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides which currently pollute rivers and estuaries. In an industry which uses ungodly amounts of freshwater, fuel, fertilizer, chemicals and plastic, surely cover crops are to be of enormous importance in the future of agriculture and horticulture. A holistic understanding of inter-cropping cover crops will be garnered through the season and a balance between regenerating nature and harvesting a yield will hopefully arise.

Third Year Summary: Planting 2014

March 11th, 2015 | Posted by toddh in Planting | Training - (Comments Off on Third Year Summary: Planting 2014)

Summary
At the beginning of this season I began by inventorying the seed and culling a lot of old and miscellaneous seeds. This task was to help formulate the seed order, but also gave the whole process a fresh start. We then looked at maps of last season’s crop rotation and quickly established the fields we would be using this year. Collards and kohlrabi found a more permanent spot in our field crop, but for the most part, the previous year’s crop plan was applied to this season. After establishing how many beds we would need, calculating the amount of seed needed is pretty straight for ward when you have previous year’s data. Ultimately, more seeds will need to be ordered at some point, and the plan will take on some minor changes.
Planting our first vegetable succession in the Big Garden Beds is an example of adapting the plan to use the ground available to us. The field beds we had prepared the year before for this spring were far too wet. So instead we planted them intensively in our permanent raised beds. The crops did great and even though the leeks stayed nearly all season, they did not disrupt our usually carrot and salad greens rotation in these beds.
The most notable aspect of planting this season was continuing and expanding our experimentation with our field crop production. For the past two seasons we have been planting our tomatoes into what we’ve dubbed this year “Favorable Furrows”. Kyle describes the method clearly in his planting summary; in addition to a challenge we faced using it that season. This year we also used this method to plant one of our vegetable successions. The results were great. The plants were quite vigorous and beautiful, and the weed/grass pressure was very manageable. This is achieved by rototilling the pathways with the BCS.
Each row got a pass down and back with the BCS hugging up as close to the crops as possible. Some of the pathways between the crops were treated three times and some only once. The pathways treated thrice had best results, but the crops were big enough that I was concerned about damaging them. The rototilling was done in second gear. The quicker pace prevented the BCS from tilling to deep. It did a great job of chopping up the vegetation just on the surface and leaving the soil and thus seed bank relatively undisturbed. The only spots that new weeds really shot up was right next to the crops in the furrow itself, but these pulled easily when a little bigger. Hand weeding was done only once and fairly quickly. In the future one might fit a scuffle hoeing not long after transplanting. Interested in hand tools, I tried a grass whip to knock back some later growth in the pathways. It worked ok as far as effort and efficiency, but ultimately wasn’t quite right enough. I suspect there is a better tool out there for this kind of work.
Particularly exciting aspects of this method was the reduction in time and equipment. Harvesting the cover crop for stray was done as usual. Then the riding mower was used to clearly cut out the field as low as we could. The furrow was ripped with a center shank on our IH 140. The goal is a trench as deep as the shank and roughly two shanks wide. This was done with a couple passes up and back. I found it helpful to try and get the shank just deep enough to peel the grass out of the way on the first pass. Subsequent passes shaped out the furrow and with moderate speed most soil was kept in or close to the furrow instead of it being thrown out far to the sides. Beginning a small scale farm, the low horse power cultivating tractor and BCS combo used to selectively prepare planting space might be a more accessible start to field crops then the equipment needed to prepare the entire field. With our standard field bed preparation, we use four tractors, some of which need to be much stronger and heavier. Recently, Mike presented me an article he found about deep zone tillage. After just briefly looking into I found examples of people using similar methods. So, we are looking forward to experimenting and improving in the seasons to come.
Crops
We were also constructing a new high tunnel through out the season with intention of growing more tomatoes. It was quite the building project and learning process for the whole crew. We managed to get the tomatoes in by the 15th of July, and raced to finish our end-walls before the frost eventually came. The trellising presented some problems and irrigating needed some fine tuning, but the plants did very well in the new production area putting out big beautiful fruits.  Additionally our cover cropping went well and as predicted this year. Most of the fields being seeded were close and somewhat in line with each other, making the process pretty easy.

Important dates
3/27 – First greens planted in green house – Needs about 2 weeks sooner.
4/11 – First vegetable succession in BGB
4/18 – First flower succession
4/23 – First salad succession
5/16 – Green house tomatoes – crew planting intro.
5/27 – Field tomatoes
7/15 – High Tunnel tomatoes
8/26 – Last beans and squash
9/23 – Last salad
10/3 – Last field succession – Needs to be one Moon cycle sooner.
10/23 – Last Green House planting/ veggies – Needs about 2 weeks sooner.
11/12 – Garlic – 6 beds, 1 row/bed

Conclusion
Focusing on planting has broadened the scope of my actions during the season. I was able to see clearly how each action or step informs the next: The crop plan and seed inventory leading to a seed order, having transplants depending upon the green house order forms being made and filled, the planting depending on the bed preparations, and ultimately it all coming together to form the products we take to market and support the farm. The process has been an exciting and intriguing part of the season, and has rounded out my understanding of the elements to farming.
This concludes my third year, and thus fulfills my internship at North Slope Farm. Having had no prior experience, I’ve learned everything needed to further pursue farming as a means to a very fruitful livelihood. The seeds have been planted and the vision I hold of my future has been greatly expanded through the time spent on this land and being apart of this farm. It has highlighted the dynamic rhythms of nature and solidified my desire to actively engage its intricate unending flow. The lessons to be gleaned are life long. Finally, the amount of amazing people I have met and the lasting friendships formed at North Slope farm, other farms, and in the this area through all sorts of different gatherings have been truly inspiring. I am grateful for the opportunity to be apart of a community and the future they are working so hard to grow.

Third Year Focus Introduction

March 19th, 2014 | Posted by toddh in Planting - (Comments Off on Third Year Focus Introduction)

 

Planting Focus 2014

Intent: My intentions at North Slope Farm from the begging have been to grow my personal skills and know-how through what I find to be inherently rewarding work relevant to my long term goals.  I am excited to be focusing on planting this year, which falls in line with my interests in farming. With planting I can focus on the rhythms of the season which help to establish the pacing of our successions.  I intend to gain a clearer understanding of the steps involved with developing and executing a crop plan.

 Tasks and Responsibilities:  I am tasked with establishing our crop plan for the season and placing our seed order, keeping us up with the planting dates and moon cycles, and providing our green house with order forms for each succession.  I expect to be doing more work on the tractors. In particular, tasks involved in preparing the beds for planting such as primary tillage, bed forming, tractor cultivation, and eventually cover cropping.  Finally I will compile the information gathered from my focus into a clear summary for future reference.

Cover Crop Plan and Task Lisk 2013

October 3rd, 2013 | Posted by miker in Planting - (Comments Off on Cover Crop Plan and Task Lisk 2013)

click on scan below for more size options…

CoverCrop Plan 2013

Task List –

MikeR needs to maximize the opportunity provided by excellent weather and timing for Planting, and three Trainees who will be charged with Preparing for, and establishing our Main Blocks of Winter Cover Crops – Today.

The weather has been warm and dry, soil conditions are excellent and the Moon Stage will be “New Moon” in a few days – perfect for planting quick growing seed!

The Seed – Organic Seed purchased from LAKEVIEW ORGANIC GRAIN llc; Triticale Rye, Winter Pea, Hairy Vetch and Oats.

The Rye, Peas and Vetch will be mixed and broadcast on all the fields (see “Bare Fallow’ fields above) and this seasons productive beds, that are ready .  The Oats will be broadcast and worked into the Veg C south Field Beds, in preparation for next season’s first succession of field bed planting.

The Process – The Bare Fallow Fields have been prepared recently with our Cut Harrow, or Disc.  The goal is to crumble the soil in the preparation of a soft, loose seed bed.  The seed will be broadcast over the field, then gently (as possible) raked into the top few inches of the Soil.  Ideally we will then “tamp down” or lightly compact the soil surface to foster good germination of the seeds.

Additionally, we have cultivated all the field beds (with young crops) and worked up areas that have already produced crops this year.  These areas will have cover crop seed broadcast by hand, and the soil is being “worked” by our offset cultivating Tractor – International Case 265, and the rear attached Williams Tool Bar.  The Williams Tools bar is my preference for final raking of the seed into its seedbed, due to the light touch of its design and smaller operating tractor.  Finally, the Seed will be tamped down using our ATV pulling a ‘Roller” as well as a “cultipacker” which is pulled by our larger tractor and covers more ground.

The Challenge as a Trainer, is to be sure the job is done well and completely, while incorporating three Trainees into all steps of the Process.

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.

Introduction to Second Year Focus

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

Introduction to Planting Focus

Written by KG

December 5, 2011

Intent:

Create and execute a vegetable production crop plan for the 2012 season, working with the Farm Manager to ensure compliance with the overall Farm Plan as well as the organic standards and procedures of NOFA and USDA.

Tasks/ Responsibilities:

  • -Work with the Farm Manager to create a vegetable production crop plan to meet the needs of the Farm, supplying produce for our three in-season farmer’s markets as well as our wholesale outlets (Nomad Pizza, etc.)
  • -Work with Greenhouse Manager to create a seed order for desired varieties/crops using input from previous years’ crop plans modified by actual yields and conditions on NSF as well as the Farm Managers experience
  • -Work with the Greenhouse Manager to create and execute a seedling propagation plan that fits with the Crop Plan and ensures a steady supply of transplants when needed for planting field successions
  • -Create an accessible and coherent Crop Plan using NSF’s practice of succession planting, as well as the practice using the phases of the moon to regulate the pattern and workload of plantings
  • -Incorporate cover-cropping and fallow field management into the Crop Plan
  • -Ensure the planting dates of the Crop Plan are maintained as best as possible while reacting to the challenges and opportunities of the season as it unfolds
  • -Maintain accurate and accessible planting records using and improving on the format used in previous seasons
  • -Work with the Farm Manager and Crew to ensure fields and beds are adequately prepared for planting and treated with organically certified compost and fertilizer as needed
  • -Work with the Farm Manager and Crew to ensure plantings go smoothly
  • -Create a visualization of the crop rotation plan to allow easy reference and it’s projection into the future to ease in longer term planning
  • -Maintain a set of updated, accurate, and intuitive field maps designed for ease of use in planning purposes
  • -Prepare and publish personal summary of experience and seeding dates for Season Summary posting

 

Crop Plan Intro 2011 & Third Year Summmary

October 6th, 2011 | Posted by steven in Planting - (Comments Off on Crop Plan Intro 2011 & Third Year Summmary)

Crop Plan Intro 2011 & Third Year Summary

Field Map
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.

DSCF0284
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.

Summary

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.

Important Dates:

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

Frost Seeding in March

March 8th, 2011 | Posted by miker in Planting - (125 Comments)

Frost Seeding – Medium Red Clover into recovering fields

Seeded March 2, 2011, by MR

Using manual seed spinner, seeding at an approx. rate of 10 pounds (#) per acre.  Utilized opening at reccomended (on spinner) setting; aprox 1/8th inch.

To provide even spread of the seed, at 10#/acre, I had to run.  I was overdressed, particularly the calf high rubber boots.  It took ~1.5 hours for ~4 acres, and by the end the ground was softening.

Conditions were frozen overnight but forcast for warming, with rain to follow.  As it turns out the next two mornings were more frost heaved and would have been better.  Then the rain event was a “gully washer”.   I can only hope that half of the seed I spread was not simply washed away.

Every seed planted requires faith.  Considering the heavy ground cover of the fields seeded, there is good likelyhood the seed has lodged itself, and I have faith they will add to the dynamisim of the flora and fauna.  With  luck, we might get a few years cuttings of clover, for the chickens in winter, mulch and/or compost.

Clover is a traditional choice in our region as a hay crop for livestock.    Red clover flowers may be too small for Honey Bees but it produces good biomass for cutting.  White clover is an important food source for Honey Bees, stands up to “traffic” and repeated mowing.  We use Red clover for fodder/mulch cutting and white clover for pathways and pasture mixes.

Our best luck establishing clover has been mixed with spring oats and seeded early summer into a field that had been spring plowed, rested, then harrowed.  Conditions were good, cool and moist.  The oats were mowed off and left as mulch and the clover thrived, until plowing and planting the following season.  The resulting ‘Field Tillith’ or ‘texture of the soil after plowing’ was the best we have ever had.  I strongly reccomend the use of clover in fields that have a full season to grow before tillage.  I also believe clover can be a strong ally in the effort to improve soil structure by planting it in pathways, and between permanent beds.  We need to experiment with more varieties, the NRCS often reccomends Alsaike(sp?) for wetter soils.

Planting

September 28th, 2010 | Posted by miker in Planting - (Comments Off on Planting)

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Planting is one of the most rewarding tasks at North Slope Farm.  It is a major step that takes the seedling from the Greenhouse element to the Crop Care element.  Many steps lead up to a successful planting, and then the job has just begun.  Cover those soil blocks you planters!!!