Watch as Farmers Grow

Second Year Focus: Crop Care

March 13th, 2015 | Posted by JacobThies in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Second Year Focus: Crop Care)

JT – 3/6/15

Second Year Focus Introduction: Crop Care

Crop care is a major element throughout day-to-day life on the farm. Once seeds are sown or seedlings planted, they need attention, care, and tending. As with anything biological, certain conditions produce healthier lives for the living organism, and our crops at North Slope are no different.

After deliberating over a few different elements, I choose crop care as my focus for the 2015 season for multiple reasons: it’s importance to the farm operation, how it was overlooked at times during the 2014 season (only due to not having someone dedicated to this element), an opportunity to be an advocate for the crops, and ultimately to gain an intimate understanding of how best to efficiently manage the crops in conjunction with worker hours.

Importance to the farm operation: 

Crop care is imperative. Once the crops are in the ground, they need attention in order for them to thrive. Plant vigor comes with providing the crop with the most optimum opportunity to excel, and to do that, we must control to the best of our abilities the moisture levels (especially during drought-like conditions), weed pressure, cold weather barriers, and pest control. Questions that will arise that must be dealt with: best irrigation practices, best cultivation practices, timing of cultivations, and pest protections.

Overlooking Crop Care in 2014:

During my first season at NSF, I felt there were a couple case studies that were stark reminders to me of the importance of crop care. During our carrot harvests, we had some beds that yielded 100 lbs and others that were closer to 500 lbs. Same size beds. Incredible variety in yields. After discussions as a crew, it seemed highly likely that the difference in yields came down to a the consistency of irrigation. The second case study was the lack of vigor our field tomatoes showed. They produced a lot of fruit, but the plants never truly grew with much vigor. This, too, could be attributed to a lack of focus on getting irrigation to the crops when they needed it the most. Without someone focused on crop care as their element, irrigation and weed pressure (especially in the carrots) were overlooked. From these first hand experiences, I grew convinced that crop care is an incredibly important element on the farm.

Crop advocacy: 

Which leads me to the reason why I chose crop care as my element. As the Crop Care Manager, I will lead the charge for making the environment more ideal for our crops in the ground. Having someone on the farm focused on crop advocacy should bring more awareness to the day-to-day needs (immediate and long term) of the crops in ground.

Managing crop care efficiently: 

In order to manage crop care efficiently, I’ll be using the Crop Care Task List created by Kyle to be filled out during a weekly field walk. In this field walk, I plan to make notes on crop care issues to take on for the week, and will translate those notes onto the chalkboard in the office to share with the crew. This will allow us to stay on top of weed pressure by scuffle hoeing in the BGBs at the right time, allowing us to attempt different cultivation methods in the Field Favorable Furrows, and, hopefully, get out the flame weeder to kill off early annual weeds in our carrot beds. Open communication is crucial in order to manage any element of the farm efficiently.

Field Favorable Furrows: 

One aspect of the farm operation that will be applied in-full this year is the use of North Slope’s minimal tillage technique colloquially known around NSF as Field Favorable Furrorws. The technique to cultivating our crops with the FFF hasn’t totally been set in stone, but I project that we will continue to utilize the technique developed last year. Last year, after we planted into our furrows, to cultivate in order to suppress weeds, we would run the BCS in-between the rows as close to the plants as possible in order to both kill newly germinated weeds and to chop up the remaining cover crop. I believe we ran the BCS a second time and also hand weeded by crawling up and down the rows on our hands and knees extracting the weeds.

I would like to try and incorporate the wheel hoe into the mix. I think the first cultivation should be with the BCS in order to break up cover crop, but the second cultivation pass could be tried with the wheel hoe. The hand weeding for the third cultivation was relatively quick and efficient.

Ripping Furrows

Flame Weeding the Carrot Beds: 

When our carrots are given the right environment to thrive in our BGBs, they exist in that space as if they were made for it. In order to create that perfect environment, we must focus on two obstacles: getting the carrots an appropriate amount of irrigation and to suppress the weed pressure early before the Galinsoga fights for BGB supremecy. This season, I believe we should implement the flame weeder as a major tool in our carrot growing arsenal. If we can knock back the weeds early, we’ll bank on getting the carrots established before the weeds. Once the second set of annual weeds begins to germinate a few weeks later, the already established carrots will give us an easy framework in which to scuffle hoe around.

Tasks and Responsibilities: 

Irrigation – Crop Care Element requires constant attention to irrigation, especially during drought like conditions during peak summer. A constant rotation schedule should be put in place in order to accommodate all BGBs, greenhouses, and fields.

Mulching – Some crops (tomatoes) receive straw mulch to suppress weed pressure and to cover the soil to dissuade slash back onto the crops.

HT1 first tomas 2014

Weed Control – Crops perform best when weeds are knocked down in their early stages. Observe best time to cultivate, and get crew on board to accomplish the task. Using scuffle hoes, flame weeders, hand weeding, and the BCS down the paths of the Favorable Furrows.

Pest Control – Looking for both rodent and insect damage, and, if damage is noted, take appropriate action to alleviate damage. With rodents, prevention is key. We’ll try to keep up to speed on mowing pathways of the BGBs and making sure the electric fences are in working order and charged over night. Last fall, we lost most of our collards and kale due to a major aphid infestation. This year we’ll try to combat that using a light weight, light permeable insect netting to quell aphid pressure.

Trellising – Making sure plants are able to be supported as they grow vertically. Having clips, tomato twine, wooden and metal stakes, and trellising for peas.

Frost protection – Laying out hoops, applying remay, and securing them with sandbags during the first few months and last couple months to fight off potential frost damage to crops.


As a small crew, it will be imperative to stay on top of our crop care and handle cultivation, irrigation, pest protection, and weather protection in the most timely fashion. I envision days where we’re scrambling to fit all of our crop care needs into the day, so consistent and comprehensive communication with the farm manager and crew about the crop needs will be critical. At the end of the day, I believe with someone focused on crop care, we’re setting ourselves up for a season of harvests that meet our market demands from both the BGBs, high tunnels, and the Favorable Furrows.

Monthly Summary – September 2013

September 8th, 2014 | Posted by RickMorris in Monthly Summary - (Comments Off on Monthly Summary – September 2013)

Monthly Summary– September 2013

Logs reviewed and summary prepared by Rick Morris on September 8, 2014.

General Observations:  The drama of the small farm peaks in the late season! A succession of hardy greens failed (see ‘crop care’ below!), a new generation of baby chicks arrived, and apprentices were trained on the big tractors. All the while the crew was constantly busy with the largest harvest month of the year and began preparations for the coming season.

BY Spreading Compost

BY Spreading Compost on field beds

Equipment (21 hrs):  Apprentices were trained on the tractors for bed forming and applying compost to the field beds. Key lessons included 1) the importance of an efficient pre-planned driving pattern for shaping beds 2) vigilant observation of tractor implements to ensure they are working the ground correctly and to adjust as needed 3) post-use maintenance prevents next-use frustrations (a forgotten wire begot a dead battery that required replacement)! The Kabota ride-on mower was fixed and returned to the farm and its continual task of maintaining walkable walkways.

Administration (23 hrs):  A lunchtime training session lent some excitement to the otherwise Sisyphean tasks of payroll and record keeping. Mike broke out the field maps and driving schema to discuss the new planting of strawberries (a North Slope first!) and the fall and winter cover crop plan. At the end of the month, Mike placed an order for BioBags which we use to store and market crops. He used the record of the previous year’s order to figure out the quantity and stored receipts to help in figuring future orders.

Infrastructure (68 hrs):  As the cool weather begins to roll in the Remay begins to roll out! We rounded up the fabric and rebar hoops to cover cold-sensitive crops. Areas of the farm that are difficult to mow – fence posts, irrigation lines, other problem areas – were tended to with the weed whacker. The whacker hit a line of the electric fencing which was subsequently patched. We moved and cleaned the chicken coops and prepared a home for the new chicks. The truck hit a low branch, smashing the upper corner of the box. The fact that it looks replaceable does little to stem a growing headache.

Greenhouse (17 hrs):  Greenhouse space was at a premium this month! We began drying the lemon verbena tea in our smallest 6-table hoop house and quickly realized the crop required significantly more space. We decided to clear out a succession of seedlings and microgreens from the larger ‘seedling gothic’ greenhouse in order to dry another 10 tables of the tea. In order to create a proper drying environment we piped out drainage and ensured the fans were operating in peak condition.

Composting (5 hrs):  Newly formed field beds were composted by newly trained apprentice Todd!

Planting (167 hrs): Cool weather crops like broccoli, tat soi, mizuna, arugula and radishes were added back into the veggie succession. Strawberries were planted into shaped, plastic covered beds. We mulched the edges of the plastic and the walkways with woodchips and cut trenches at the ends of the beds to facilitate drainage. We purchased cover crop seed and planted a new succession of squash, chard, kale, collards, kohlrabi, and two successions of salad mix and carrots

Crop Care (157 hrs): Kale and Chinese cabbage were covered with Remay at the end of August. By the first week of September the crops failed horribly! Aphids infested these brassicas and the plants appeared to have melted. Special care was given to the perennials as blackberries and apple trees were weeded. Routine care continued as well: we mowed the corner garden’s vigorous weed jungle, wheel-hoed the scallions, staked and strung the green beans, scuffle hoed and hand weeded the crops, and vigilantly maintained the irrigation rotation.

Greenhouse Tomatoes

One use of all that straw is mulching our greenhouse tomatoes!

Harvesting (408 hrs): September saw a 55% increase in harvest hours from the previous month! Besides our regular veggie, herb, and flower harvests, the tomato production peaked, Mike spent several days cutting and baling hay, and the tea was gathered. It seemed that the crew was constantly on the move and small details were missed here and there: the office door was left open with the air conditioner running, a missed wire drained a tractor battery, the logs weren’t kept up to date, etc.

Handling (67 hrs): Farming is beautiful. This beauty is never more manifest then when bunching flowers of every color and petal into cascading bouquets of floral miracles. For 25 such bunches in a week in September, we harvested 550 stems between 5 varieties. Harvesting took about 3 worker hours and bunching required approximately 1.5 worker hours. If we say that harvesting and handling labor is worth $30/hr to account for the previous work of tilling, planting, caring, etc., then it cost the farm about $135 to produce the bunches. Dividing that cost by the number of bunches gives us a farm value of $5.40 per bunch.

Marketing (152 hrs):  Sales were down at the beginning of the month because we did not bring blackberries to market. The display was full of herbs, squash, beans, eggplant, peppers, scallions, kale, cabbage and loads of heirloom tomatoes. The situation suggests an uncomfortable question: What do we sell, and why? Few of us got into this business for money alone (or at all!). Yet bills and staff need to be paid! If squash and hardy greens are the healthiest for the community, but the little berries bring in the most money, then where should be spend more time and attention? Is there anything wrong with reselling another farm’s produce at our stand? What if reselling makes up a majority of the farm’s income? These questions are much discussed. On the less abstract side of things, we noted the importance of having multiple hands loading the truck for market, but the difficulty of attaining labor for such a short period of time at such an early hour. Also, surplus tomatoes were stored and trucked to a processor to make our value-added shelf-stable sauce and ketchup.

Special Projects (55 hrs):  The baby chicks arrived! Mike picked them up from Moyers on the way back from a sauce run. We set up an incubator coop with a heat lamp. The chicks need special protection from the cold, especially during cool September nights.

New Chicks

New chicks with their cozy heating lamp!


Week 1:  Heavy hot and humid! Sunny by the end of the week.

Week 2: Hot and humid days, but cool nights and no rain.

Week 3: One steady overnight rain (1 inch) followed by a perfect clear dry week.

Week 4: Continued clear weather! Soil is dry and requires irrigation.


Sept 1 Sept 7-8 Sept 14-15 Sept 21-22 Sept 28-29 Month Total


















Combined Market Monthly Total: $27,363

YTD Market Total: $103,639