Watch as Farmers Grow

Third Year Summary: Planting 2014

Posted by toddh in Planting | Training - (Comments Off on Third Year Summary: Planting 2014)

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.
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

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 Summary – 2013

Posted by RR in Equipment - (Comments Off on Third Year Summary – 2013)

Third Year Summary -2013

It’s coming to the end of my three year training period at North Slope Farm. The years have passed in the blink of an eye but the amount of personal growth and knowledge I’ve experienced and gained will stick with me for a lifetime. Organic farming is a trade that is simultaneously coherent and chaotic, exhausting and rewarding, liberating and nerve wracking, but overall it’s just pretty darn fun.  Few other jobs allow one to be outside enjoying the blue sky and bright sunshine; to make one’s own decisions about what needs to get done and when; or to see the final result (perhaps a shiny, colorful bunch of Swiss Chard) of hard work, all while helping the greater community and by practicing environmental sustainability. Training here over the years has begun to give me an understanding of how to balance the fun, the practical and chaotic nature of working and managing a farm. All potentially confusing tasks are broken down in to easily manageable elements: administration, infrastructure, compost, equipment, crop care, planting, greenhouse, marketing, harvesting and handling.  And our years are structured such that we can get the most out of our experiences. My first year here was a whirlwind of information since trainees are made to engage with small tasks in all of these elements in order to be able to pick which one to focus on during the second and third years.  The second year I had I focused on greenhouse duties.  For the third year, I chose to focus on equipment, not as a manager, but because they were frightening during my second year, and I needed more practice with them.

To allow me to get more aquatinted with the equipment, Mike often gave me the tasks of stale seed-bedding the Big Garden Beds, mowing and weed-whacking the sides of the BGBs, mowing the perimeter of the deer fences that surround our fields and then weed-whacking around the wooden fence posts, mowing the trails in “backyard” area and finally by occasionally assigning me to some light tractor work.

The two tasks I’m going to focus on describing are stale seed-bedding and mowing the perimeters of the fences. These are repetitive tasks for almost the entire growing season.

First on the docket is stale seed-bedding the Big Garden Beds. A good explanation of a stale seed bed can be found here:

In order to prep the bed, we mow off the sides and then existing crop on the top using the Billy Goat, our walk-behind mower, and the weed-whacker:

Walk Behind Mower Weedwhacker

Then we till the remains on the top of the bed using the rototiller:


The result looks something like this:


(*Note: This is a picture of field beds, but the top of the Big Garden Beds looks like that after rototilling.)

The next task was mowing the perimeter of the fence with the Kubota and scalping the posts with the weed-whacker.

This is our riding mower:

When the perimeter and weed-whacking is done, it looks something like this:

(*Note: as the Flicker page says, this particular area of the fence is also mowed for water management)

I’ve found that any sort of mowing with the Kubota, Billy Goat or weed-whacker is accompanied by a complex set of instructions due to hazard avoidance and removal, making sure the grass-blower is facing the right direction (grass clippings can damage crops, or mowing through a build-up of clippings can cause equipment damage), and general efficiency of movement. So, I’m not going into full detail about the riding patterns needed to complete the perimeters with the Kubota, but just note that getting lost is easy (especially in the “backyard” areas), double-mowing and getting stuck in the mud and running over branches is easy when attention is lost.

Of course, there’s always a word of safety and caution before working with machines. Always know what safety measures are in place for the equipment that’s being used. It may be needed in an emergency or it may be engaged by previous user upon shutdown and maybe the reason for a machine not starting.  Remember to check all fluid levels (gas level and fuel type, oil, hydraulic fluid, etc.) and to grease any joints that need it. Since each piece of equipment is unique, it’s best to check the corresponding manual (which means keep the manual) if something isn’t working, or turning on, or if you can’t remember what type of fuel or oil to use. Finally, always use headphones, protective eye-wear, heavy-duty pants and at the very least, sturdy shoes. Overall, the experience I’ve had with machinery this year has made me a lot more comfortable operating them.The mystique and fear have almost vanished, and now I just need to keep practicing in order to be able to work with them intuitively.

Third Year Summary- Greenhouse Manager

Posted by Robin in Greenhouse - (Comments Off on Third Year Summary- Greenhouse Manager)

THIRD YEAR FOCUS- Greenhouse Manager

Prepared 12/6/11 by RC

This year was my second year serving as greenhouse manager at North Slope Farm.  It gave me an opportunity to try to maximize efficiency within our greenhouses.  I was able to practice my management skills to perfect, to the best of my abilities, the routines of the greenhouse production.  Dealing with two hoop houses, the Farmhouse Gothic and Ralph’s House as well as one heated greenhouse, used primarily for seedlings, gives an opportunity to manage over many different projects in a season.  This year was no different; we had a wide variety of activities occurring throughout the year.

The Farmhouse Gothic had been designated to tomato growing.  Our crop care manager was set on furthering his and North Slope’s experience with grafted tomatoes so he took the reins of the hoop house and grew towering tomato plants of heirloom and red slicing varieties.  After the tomatoes completion, the Farmhouse Gothic held radishes and attempts at late summer squash which were cleared out to house layer chickens over the winter.  This gives the girls a nice protected spot to roam over the winter months.  As snow accumulates outside the chickens will be able to walk on the ground and scratch up bugs and dirt. 

Ralph’s House, the other hoop house, had an early start to the spring with plants of kale, swiss chard, scallions and fennel that had been transplanted the previous fall.  During the summer Ralph’s House primarily held pole beans, including a very cool variety called yard-long beans.  These beans were not quite a ‘yard’ long but more like a foot and a half and quite tasty.  Now as fall sets in Ralph’s House has been converted to a winter green haven, full of kale, swiss chard, radishes and peas for tasty treats for farmers and the local Hopewell market that goes year round every Wednesday afternoon (2-6) at the Hopewell train station. 

My major focus as greenhouse manager was on the heated seedling greenhouse.  Planning out a constant healthy flow of seedlings is always a challenge.  One can always plan out a detailed step by step run down of what happens when and in what amounts but weather, animals and poor germination can always throw any well thought out plan off.  Of course, as in any year we faced all these problems.  To start the general plan for the farm was to start early and hopefully get plants growing out in the field in early April.  This ambitious goal faced many challenges.  The seedlings in the greenhouse faced the dangers of rodent attacks.  Despite seedlings being positioned high up on germinating tables, these savory fresh green sprouts attracted constant attention from rodents and other pests in the cold month of March.  When most other food sources were gone during this cold month, the heated greenhouse seemed to become a haven for pests who liked to chomp away at our tender young plants.  Even after setting traps, covering trays with remay and setting in place mouse guards (slick sheets of metal that the rodents can not climb) around table legs we still had a lot of seedling loss from rodents, especially of our squash plants which had to be reseeded many times.

Additionally, at the beginning of the year we found the weather outdoors to be challenging.  The spring was wet (as most springs are) but our fields did not start to drain until well into April, far past our goals for planting.  The wet spring caused similar issues on other farms in the area, impeding many farmer’s starting dates but with our clay soil and slow draining fields it became quite a nuisance.  As a result of the rainy weather, much of the first succession of seedlings planted for the field never made it beyond the germination tables.  Instead, the second succession of seedlings became the first set to touch ground.  Yet even the second set had to be transplanted in our big garden beds which are better draining beds then our traditional field beds and do not need tractors to cultivate them.  These garden beds are usually reserved for direct transplanting of salad, arugula, tat soi, carrots, radishes and turnips.  However, they were very useful for transplanting our second succession while we waited for the traditional field beds to dry enough for tractors to prepare for planting.

In a sort of mirror image of the spring, the fall also brought some devastating rains.  The floods of hurricane Irene and later storms brought similar wet conditions to our fall fields as we experienced in early spring.  Once again our field production was halted, with mud pits were field beds once laid, transplanting a final succession was again thrown off course.  Instead a later set of seedlings needed to be seeded, after our initial crop plan would have ended.  These seedlings were transplanted again into the well draining big garden beds.  These experiences come to show that again and again plans have to be revised to suit environmental issues and dilemmas; one always has to prepare for the worse.  Also, these experiences point to the validity of having different growing conditions to be utilized when necessary.  In our case the two different types of field beds allowed us to make use of seedlings that else wise would have gone to waste.  It seems a good idea of any farm to have a wetter and dryer field option to help combat bad weather throughout the year.   

Seedling sales are the other major aspect of greenhouse management.  In the germination greenhouse we grow seedlings for special orders and for selling at markets.  This year I planned out numerous successions of seedlings for sale to hopefully keep them young and vibrant.  If they live in a pot too long they can get diseased and worn down and their roots can get bound and not transplanted easily.  Though we use cow pots, which allow the roots to grow threw the manure based pot walls, which help reduce damage to the plants, they still do need to be planted in the grown to be fully healthy plant.  Therefore we seeded a number of successions of plants, which seemed to help keep our seedlings in good shape.  With special wholesale orders to places like Whole Earth in Princeton and The Kitchen Garden we were able to make extra money at the start of the year before our crop plants took off.  Also, when we look at the work the greenhouse did strictly for North Slope Farm, providing seedlings for the season, we can consider the flats grown for NSF as a distinct “seedling order”.  In this way we can evaluate the value of the functioning greenhouse in money earned and saved by growing seedlings.

This 2011 season faired reasonably for the seedling market. 

Seedling Summary

           Wholesale Accounts: yielded $2,573 gross

            Farmer Markets: yielded $2000 gross

            NSF total #s     : cowpots- 1961 pots (approx $3922 worth)

                                         : trays- 539 trays (approx $5,390 worth)

When looking at the overall products produced in the heated greenhouse and their worth to the farm (in cash and in seedlings for the field) it seems that the heated greenhouse alone stands to bring at least a $14,000 value to the farm. 


The biggest challenge in preparing seedlings for sale is to be able to constantly have healthy seedlings people want.  At times one may expect certain varieties to be more popular than others and be surprised by the customer’s lack of interest.  However, it seems that one can never have too many sun gold cherry tomatoes, nasturtiums and basil (the three most popular items for wholesale and resale markets).  It is key to always keep a constant supply ready for sale each week.  Space to store all seedlings for sale and field has to be well managed and all table space, including tables outdoors must be utilized.  The greenhouse becomes quite a juggling act in the beginning of the season and many hours are spent watering and caring for these baby plants but if taken care of properly it is quite rewarding to see them grow.


The greenhouse has been a great way to plug into the heart of a farm.  Being able to adequately plan and organize seedlings has been quite a venture and a wonderful learning experience.  It is always a challenge to be able to produce a healthy seedling at its peak, ready to go the moment the weather and field conditions will corporate.  Of course, it does not always go as planned and is always a little sad to have to throw unhealthy and old seedlings in the compost pile but when you plant and see a healthy seedling grow into a nutritious bountiful plant, it is quite rewarding.  Planning the greenhouse seeding schedule helps to coordinate an entire farm and is a great experience to be taken to future work at another farm or my own one day.  Organizing the greenhouse also teaches one patience; you can not rush nature but if you work hard you can hopefully find the best balance to produce the healthiest plants possible.

Third Year Focus – Reflection after 2016 Season; Jacob Thies

Posted by miker in Greenhouse - (Comments Off on Third Year Focus – Reflection after 2016 Season; Jacob Thies)

Jacob Thies – Third Year Focus and Reflection – 2016 Season at North Slope Farm

Year III — A Reflection 

There are so many words that come to mind when I think of North Slope Farm: stewardship, respect, growth, camaraderie, family, and home. North Slope was all that to me for two and a half years until I left in my third year to finish some schooling efforts and to eventually take a position working in Central Park, New York City.

Jacobs View

Currently, I am the 59th Street Pond Zone Gardener working for the Central Park Conservancy ( My section, the southeast corner of the park, is the entry point for millions of park patrons each year. My job description is vast and challenging and involves performing all the horticultural maintenance in the landscape including the lawns, annual, perennial and shrub beds surrounding this water body.

Much of what I’m able to get accomplished today at my current position is a credit to the time I spent at North Slope Farm’s Apprenticeship program. In hindsight, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mike and his willingness to share his knowledge, experiences, and training to create in me a foundational knowledge of both horticulture and mechanics. From the largest trees to the smallest noxious weeds (galinsoga everywhere!) to the largest pieces of equipment (landscaping mowers) to the smallest pieces of equipment (my trusty pruning shears), I confidently know I have the knowledge and skills to maintain this landscape and use these tools efficiently. I examine intently, make conscious choices with the future of the pond’s landscape in mind, and take time to properly sharpen my hori hori.

This is not the traditional season summary, and as my title suggests it is a reflection on the value of training and the respect an apprentice has for his trainer. I would not have been hired by the Central Park Conservancy if it hadn’t been for the opportunities given to me by North Slope Farm. As I sit and type, my gratitude for this farm, and the people that gravitate toward it, are at an all time high. To North Slope Farm, I thank you. To Mike, Colleen, Casey, Summer, Todd, Dan, Christine, Sam — thank you for constant encouragement and willingness to build a community so deeply rooted in all the things that are right in this world. I gratefully tip my chewed up ball cap to you all. 

Monthly Summary – March 2014

Posted by Dan DeLago in Monthly Summary - (Comments Off on Monthly Summary – March 2014)

Monthly Summary– March 2014

Logs reviewed and summary prepared by DD

General Observations: With New Jersey looking more like the Arctic Circle than the garden state the crew began the month by repairing the collapsed farmhouse gothic through somewhat unconventional methods. After greenhouse repairs were complete the crew shifted its attention to the overcrowded chicken coup. Following these pressing matters, perennials were pruned and greenhouse planting successions were completed despite freezing nights and strong winter winds. With low temperatures well below freezing through the last week of March, thawing greenhouse irrigation was the main priority. Preparing the beds for planting with compost and minerals and moving the chicken coop brought an end to March and the last of the winter weather.

Equipment (16 hrs): (3/17) Leaking coolant required repair of the JD 2240 after being used to repair the snow damaged farmhouse gothic. (3/26) IH 140 used to spread compost of 16 beds on the vegetable C south field at 1.5 yds³/bed. (3/27) Both batteries on JD required replacement after clicking noise and lack of engine turn over observed.

Administration (146.5 hrs): (3/5) Roundtable meeting for crew to discuss personal interests, focuses and plans for upcoming season. (3/6) Completed farm summary of 2013 harvest data with brief comparison to previous year’s summary. (3/13) Seedling sales for market and Whole Earth Center were logged and the March 2013 summary was posted. (3/17) Farm manager joined Matt Conver from Cherry Grove Organic Farm at market meeting in Summit, NJ to discuss the market details, guidelines and liability insurance rates. A pallet of chicken feed was ordered from Lakeview Organics. (3/18) Third year focus, introduction and plan established (3/19) The final seed order from JSS was placed and brief review of seed orders was done. (3/20) Soil fertility introduction for this year’s crew was done with the aid of the previous year’s soil tests. The science of trimming fruit trees was practiced with varying degrees of success. (3/27) April summary completed.

Infrastructure (124 hrs): (3/4) New toilet and shower fittings put in farmhouse for a total cost of $1250. (3/7) Chicken coop moved from chicken yard to Farmhouse Gothic for the time being. (3/12) With the first planting comes lessons of greenhouse operations involving irrigation, heating, ventilation and soil preparation/seeding. (3/13) Thawing of the greenhouse irrigation lines is the major task of the day as the culvert and drain valve are frozen. (3/21) The crew preps the new high tunnel area for construction. A drainage issue in Big Garden Bed south is noticed and furrows are cut to allow drainage. (3/26) Cold and windy temperatures brought inconveniences like freezing of the drain in the greenhouse which required 1.5 hours to drain. (3/26) Electric fences are put up around the chicken flock in the pasture to deter the family of foxes.
Greenhouse Frame Repair
Greenhouse (165.5 hrs): (3/4) Trimming of the greenhouse shade willows begins. (3/5) A major renovation of the Farmhouse Gothic is required after collapse due to heavy snow. JD and the crew were required to lift the hoops and reform the greenhouse structure. (3/7) Ralph’s house beds were formed and staked out. Tomato strings and drip tape were all removed. (3/12) Greenhouse orders were created and the first day of seeding commenced. Onions, leeks and the first succession of vegetables were started. (3/13) Beets, cabbages and zinnias were all started. The farmhouse Gothic walls were all secured to protect the chickens from the heavy winds. (3/14) The entire first seedling succession has been started. (3/15) Heated mats and chimney repairs have allowed the greenhouse to reach proper germination temperature despite freezing temperatures outside. A single heavy watering at 1pm each day supplies ample water while allowing convenient drainage of the pipes so as to prevent freezing overnight. (3/23) Rodents mercilessly killed all the greenhouse sunflowers. Bells of Ireland and dill were planted to replace the sunflowers. (3/30) Post holes were dug and filled on the west end of the Farmhouse Gothic and lumber was inserted into the poured concrete. The remainder of the greenhouse was cleared to make way for the spring rush.

Composting (31 hrs): (3/25) The Big Garden Bed Northeast Vegetable Field South (3 BGB’s and 4 Fieldbeds) had 11 yds³ spread at a concentration of 1.5³ yds/bed. (3/26) The vegetable field south had 1.5 yds³/bed spread over 16 beds. (3/27) Tree trimmings were collected by the crew and brought to the compost pile.

Planting (19.5hrs):  (3/12) First day of seeding with onions, leeks and first vegetable succession begins. (3/13) Planting continues with the beets, cabbages and zinnias all being planted. (3/14) First seeding succession is started for the time being. Extreme cold weather and hard north winds require heat mats and space heaters to ensure germination is successful. (3/20) After soil tests were complete a recommendation of 80#N/ acre or 2#N/1000ft² was decided upon. A change in fertilizer application was decided upon for the season. North Country Organic Natural 6-0-6 No-Phos application was applied ($26.35/50#). (3/25) Seeding for seedling sales and greenhouses, which includes tomatoes, basil and the next round of flowers, has begun.

Crop Care (122 hrs):  (3/4) Shade willows around the greenhouse begin to be trimmed. This task continues throughout the second week of March. (3/14) The introduction to pruning, tree anatomy, tools and shape of tree takes place. (3/18) The field walk with the first years is used to discuss mulching, remay details (ie: light and heat retention) and electric fencing operation. (3/20) With tree pruning nearly complete the focus shifts to the other perennials (blackberries, asparagus).

Harvesting (0 hrs):

Handling (2 hrs): Weekly egg washing, sorting, boxing and labeling.

Marketing (5 hrs): Attendance of the Summit Farmer’s market meeting to discuss details and NSF location at the market.  .

Special Projects (28.5 hrs): (3/5) Older flock separated from younger chickens to reduce infighting. (3/6) 17 chickens in total were slaughtered, cleaned and packed. (3/6 – 3/18) Trimming of the willows is completed.


Week 1: A major snow events collapses the greenhouse.

Week 2: With the ground still snow covered the week ends with an extreme wind storm and below freezing temperatures.

Week 3: Warming weather brings 40 degree temperatures during the day but still freezing at night.

Week 4: Freezing temperatures with heavy north winds threaten to remove the walls of the greenhouse and temperatures are consistently freezing during the day.

Monthly Summary – November 2013

Posted by miker in Monthly Summary - (Comments Off on Monthly Summary – November 2013)

Monthly Summary – November 2013

Prepared by MR on 11/17/14

General Observations:  The first day of November was memorable for a “freak front,” that plowed through our Salad Harvest.  “..the salad harvest was going nicely until the weather turned very dark, then wind picked up and heavy rain.  A dull roar ensued as hard, wind driven rain pounded down – [the field manager] called the crew to take shelter due the extreme conditions.”  I remember as we stood up, the wind swirled around us, sucking all the cut lettuce out of our crates, creating a mini blizzard of baby lettuce…  “on return to the lettuce, it proved to be severely damaged by pellet like rain drops, and the harvest was abandoned.”  There were some notes of nice days, but more of “frozen ground,”  “uncovered crops lost to frost damage”, “late start to harvest due to freezing conditions.”  So November continues to be a month where the true character of the crew is tested and the manager struggles to fulfill production goals against increasing challenges.  November had the least total worker hours (324), half the previous month and one third of the busiest months.  We close operations after the weekend before Thanksgiving, so almost two weeks are just minimum chores and weather proofing.
Frosted Crops
Equipment; 8 Hrs:  Ford and hay baler.  Notes of the Ford tractor overheating while field mowing.  MR cut the field to the north of the Eco-Cluster, controlling woody growth and rejuvenating a nice hay field.  A third of the field has been allowed to grow up in adventitious woody species as a dynamic opportunity to experiment with micro climates – woody wind break and southern solar access – needs annual and attentive mowing.

Administration; 23 Hrs:   The log notes “Afternoon – Workers need to be self motivated.”  I gave the crew the same lecture this November, and it rings true as ‘a statement of the end of the season.’  The worker and the manager struggle, usually side by side, but at least in common, towards the goal of finishing this and that task.  By the end of the season, it takes a hard push to keep productive, and the manager is usually at the end of their reserves.  Even if cheerful, the expectant gaze of idle workers, stirs deeply, in the manager, the desire; that the worker will internalize the practices of the season, mingled with an awareness of current needs, to be self motivated.  This is complicated by the change of season, conditions and evolving expectations, and the worker is appropriately looking for guidance!

Infrastructure; 39 Hrs:  KG noted thanks for use of newly tilled garden in Farmhouse yard, as he cleaned up the seasons debris.  Chores hampered by frozen conditions, water buckets are filled before draining pipes, and need to be tucked in non freezing corners.  After the last marketing weekend the pressure tank and all water lines were completely drained for the Winter.  Water for chores or misc produce washing now comes from the Farmhouse or the Ranch.

Greenhouse; 2 Hrs:  Tomato vine cleanup from two houses this month.  The hours were probably assigned to Crop Care, because the task must have taken 8-10 worker hrs.  Additionally, KG managed micro greens for sale to the farm ($189 this month), to resell.

Composting; 0 Hrs:  Each week, there is compost generated in the handling and marketing of produce.  A ‘Zero Hours’ hardly does justice to the focus of the composter – who diligently maintains containers to collect compostables, then empties them onto a managed pile in the Composting Area.  Here’s to you, Diligent Composter!

Planting; 20 Hrs:  Seeding cover crop in Farmhouse Yard Garden.  Last planted crops, October 16 and 19, are nowhere near ready to yield crop for last market.  Need to plant crops for last harvests by mid September.  Garlic Planted on the 19th; 6 beds, 10 worker hrs, 500 cloves per bed.  We positioned cloves to see if there is a noticeable difference in leaf spread next year.  Ie. “rounded side of clove planted towards the south vs to the west.”

Crop Care; 29 Hrs:   By this time there is no doubt but that the ‘Agricultural fleece’ or ‘Remay’ should be covering any crops that will be harvested or overwintered.  KG preparing summary, noted that this season we utilized <20,000 feet of drip tape.  Chard under remay protected from frost damage, uncovered it is not viable for harvest!  Where there is remay, there are crews tending them with each windy day, sometimes multiple times in a day.

Harvesting; 90 Hrs: Note that for fall harvest we should plant frost resistant head lettuce, in hopes of better results than the baby leaf.  Two weeks without salad mix due partly to slow growth but also the storm damage..  First week of November and notes are clear as to the effect of cold – “Harvest hampered by cold fingers in am and required warm gear right to the end..”  Second harvest of the month, note that cold hammered kale, collards and chard “all very sad looking, still frozen even at 10 am.”

Handling; 43 Hrs:  With large volume of carrot harvest, MR called Jess from Chickadee Creek Farm, to try out her barrel washer.  Constant tumbling and water spray.  To get product really clean, still had to be careful not to overload a batch and found best results after pushing the tumbled carrots back to top of (the slightly sloped) barrel a few times.

Marketing;  72 Hrs:   Labeling our Tomato Goodness Sauce and Ketsup for retail sales.  Calculations of time invested in the sauce process and $1 per pound for the tomatoes yields a retail value of $15 Quart.  It is an exceptional product, ‘Artisan Sauce’ and well worth the value.  The processor, Baumans Family Fruit Butters, is far away, which adds to the cost, but they treat the product well and it is proven in the taste and consistency.  Weekly market sales dropping, tomatoes fading out by third week.  Noted one week was a Kale cooking demo by Chris of Cherry Grove Organic Farm, wherein “..we all sold out!”  With last market of the season forcast to be 30 degrees F. MR put plan in action for extreme vegetable vending!  We dusted off a salvaged ‘wall mount’ propane space heater, and purchased a bottle mounted heater element to create a ‘warmth envelope’ at our stand.  On actual set up at Summit, we immediately had to give up the idea of tent walls because the wind was too gusty.  Ultimately, the wall mount heater was propped on the truck tail gate and produce was served out of the (above freezing) box of the truck.  The display was frozen solid all day, as folks asked for something we popped into the box truck to bring it out and encouraged the customer to hurry to their car!Heater at Market

            WestWindsor: 11/2 $1482, 11/9 $1,134, 11/16 $1,061, 11/24 $1,554

            Summit: 11/3 $3,210, 11/10 $2,940, 11/17 $2,780, 11/24 $2,320

            Market Total for November 2013:  $16,481

Special Projects; 6 Hr:  Harvested 72 bales of late cut hay from 4 passes around the outside of CNE Field.  The pattern struck me as a way to combine haying and veggie production, that the outside perimeter of a large field might be utilized as the longest straight runs for the hay equipment, leaving the center of the field for shorter rows of tended food crops.

Monthly Summary – May 2013

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Monthly Summary – May 2013

Logs review and summary prepared by Jacob Thies.

General Observations:  Markets up and running, wholesale seedling orders to WHC, all crew members finally together, some unseasonably low night temperatures (5/14-15 & 5/26) that led to major tomato set back, but rest assured, May finally revealed her warming smile with highs in the 90’s and warm nights in 70’s by Memorial Day weekend. May lends itself to be busy, productive, and many variations in weather.

Equipment (80 hrs):  Case: 9, Kabota: 15, JD: 13, Ford: 17, IH: 7, Walking Mower, 4, BCS Roto: 4, Weedwacker: 11. Almost identical total hour usage when compared to May 2012. Cut cover crop in Veg C mid and Veg B mid and baler used to bale up cover crop on central fields. Lots of general mowing and weedwacking around the farm as a product of spring rain and sun. Big Red was put to work for cultivating new beds. MR continued supplemental training for trainees regarding usage of tractors. By mid month, more primary tillage (MSE South) and tractor cultivation with Big Red, specifically garlic.

Todd workin' it.

Administration (55 hrs): Crew received training on the use of Quicken program.  Made and placed an irrigation order to Rainflo (details of order not mentioned) & inventoried tomato stakes (5/8). MR trained TH on payroll, accounting, and a general introduction to the Element (5/14). Updated crop plans for corner garden and made note of opening for green beans and more radishes, carrots, and turnips (5/27). Owen joined the crew and received formal introduction. Total Admin up 10 hours from previous year. Possibly due to TH taking on Admin Element leading to additional training from MR.

Infrastructure (79 hrs): General maintenance including moving of chickens, mowing, weedwacking, and subsequent fuel runs to manage upkeep around the farm. Hay bales were collected from the central fields, 579 North mowed out in preparation for primary tillage, covered crops mowed, and primary tillage performed.

Greenhouse (136 hrs): Overall, there was general upkeep of the greenhouse from watering to seeding to potting on. On 5/8, crew began new seedling orders for WEC. Special note that there was a tomato variety supply crisis created by “poor planning.” Not enough supply to meet the demand. Note of emphasis to “address current shortage and assure ample production for next year.” MR gave greenhouse introduction to MB & BY detailing greenhouse order form, organizing greenhouse tables, proper potting on methods. Prepped Farmhouse Gothic for tomatoes by hanging strings on 5/22.

Composting (38 hrs): Compost was continually sifted throughout the month for potting and seeding. On 5/5, crew composted sweet William and hyssop along with the southern most 100’ bed and northern most 50’ bed in CG. 5/7 crew composted Veg C  Mid in preparation for tomatoes. On 5/31, BGB SW 1&2 were composted.

Planting (177 hrs): On 5/1, crew started the month by seeding lettuce in BGBs. 5/5 found crew thinking tomatoes and used Haybine to cut cover crop off Veg B and C Mids with intention of plating tomatoes soon. Two days later, Veg C mid was prepped for tomatoes on 5/7 and planted tomas, leeks that afternoon. On 5/10, direct seeded intercropping parsley and onions in BGB. On 5/13, focus moved to CG where 3 short beds were seeded with H. Turnips. 5/14, 2 more BGB were planted with beans. On 5/15, RR & KG seeded more lettuce in BGBs. On 5/23, tomatoes were planted in Veg C mid. On 5/27, crew seeded 100’ bed in CG with green beans on shoulders and cantaloupe down center. By the end of the month, crew began next eggie succession beds and the beds for first flower succession. Noted that primary tillage was late and extra rototilling was required to speed up breakdown of residual cover crop.

Crop Care (226 hrs): The crew spent many hours tending to the crops. On 5/1, crew weedwacked in CG – both pathways and bed edges. Southern most strawberry bed wacked as well – save for a few patches of plants for transplant. On 5/2, the east bed asparagus was weeded to remove hyssop, scuffled hoed cabbage in Veg A South and remay applied on newest salad to encourage germination. On 5/5, used fish & seaweed to fertilize all plants in CG. On 5/10, more scuffle hoeing in BGBs specifically for salad, onions and parsly – also stalked grapes and peas on trellis (north side only). On 5/21, TH used Big Red to cultivate the garlic. On 5/22, the crew flame weeded carrots. On 5/28, crew spent time cleaning up FHG and mulching tomatoes w/ straw. A second “Holistic Spray” was applied on all fruit trees, hazelnuts and NW end of Veg A veggie succession on 5/30.7

Harvesting (229 hrs): In preparation for first markets of the season, training was given to first year trainees regarding sanitation, harvesting techniques, and tools. Crew harvested a multitude of crops including arugula, mizuna, kale, tat soi from Ralph’s House, spinach, radishes, salad mix, asparagus, and microgreens. The majority of the crops were available throughout the month for Saturday and Sunday markets. By the end of the month, NSF was harvesting dill, oregano, spearmint, and head lettuce for market.

Crew Harvest

Handling (101 hrs): Hand in hand with harvesting, MR gave training to first year trainees on 5/10 regarding product handling standard operating procedures. On 5/1, stinging nettle was harvested and handled for drying. On 5/8, crew bagged and labeled hyssop and nettles. For the rest of the month, crew spent handling time washing, spinning, and bagging salad mixes and cleaned bunched greens.

Marketing (91 hrs): Market season began! In preparation for seedling sales to WEC, crew marked each individual cow pot and four-pack for sale with plant ID labels. On 5/6, NSF sold four pounds of dried stinging nettle to Cherry Grove Farm for their Nettle Jack Cheese. The middle of the month saw us with great market day weather and successful sales days. The third week was cold and windy for Saturday but warmed up for a successful Sunday market.

Special Projects (4 hrs): KG seeding, tending, harvesting, handling microgreens throughout the month. Noted that there was a missed succession but problem was resolved and back to normal seeding.


Week 1: Sunny, warm, and dry. Night time temps hovered in the 50s.

Week 2: Week started warm but cold and wet by the end. Night times dropped as low as 34F. Frost killed 5/7 planted tomatoes.

Week 3: Cool temps and rain to begin the week, though it gave way to warming weather and sunshine by the end of the week.

Week 4: Rainy, cool, and very windy. Unseasonably low night temperatures. End of the week brought hot (+90F) by the end of the month.


WWFM– 5/2: $ 1645 / 5/11: $1,552 / 5/18: $1546 / 5/25: $ 904   | Market Total- $5,640

SMT– 5/12: $ 2620 / 5/19: $1990 5/26: $ 2,704   | Market Total- $7,314

Market Monthly Total: $12,954

YTD Market Total: $12,954

Third Year Focus Introduction

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.

Monthly Summary – March 2013

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Monthly Summary– March 2013

Logs reviewed and summary prepared by CH

General Observations: As tensions in the chicken yard heated up and a violent coup erupted, Big Cheese was found dead.  Cause:  chicken inflicted wounds.  Who done it?  The other rooster.  Perhaps it was name envy.  Elsewhere on the farm, the greenhouses are abuzz with activity.  Perennial crop care is the main outdoor job for this month.  Special projects are numerous but all fit into the main production scheme with ease.    

Equipment (10 hrs): Tune up of JD, Ford and trailer. Filled tires, checked fluids and used engine block warmer on JD.  Introduction for second years and review for third years of systems, visual inspection and operation procedures for tractors.  Additional training for second years on using bucket loader to scoop and fill trailer with mulch, using trickle charger on Ford and engine block heater on JD.     

Administration (122 hrs):  Preparation of materials for beginning of season crew meeting.  (3/5) First crew meeting to introduce farm and crew and to discuss crop plan and immediate greenhouse obligations to get the seasons crops started.  (3/21) Check in with crew members to review priorities and tasks and responsibilities.  General introduction to Administration (hard data file systems, logs, WordPress, Flicker, e-mail etc.) for 1st year trainees and review for returning crew.  Created fertilizer order and updated the “Materials Master List” in the Soil Amendments folder.  Trainees tasked with summarizing element hours in Excell spreadsheet.  Final tweaking of the crop plan and seed order utilizing previous years harvest and market records; a shout out to RR for inventory of seed stock. (3/6) Seed order placed.  2013 element hours summarized and work begins on our monthly summaries for publication on website.  Second year trainees work on publishing introductions their special focus for the season.  Farm manager interviewed and offered a position to OS.  (3/27)  Fit in a field walk with the crew which is always beneficial.  Cowpots ordered for greenhouse.    

Infrastructure (41 hrs): (3/7) Water system charged.  Freezing nighttime temperatures mean draining the system at the end of the day and charging again in the mornings.  Care for chickens a bit more demanding with all the mud.  We maintain a layer of hay over the mud in “high traffic” areas within the chicken realm.  We made a recycling run. Seed shed basement flooding due to rain on top of saturated conditions.  (3/20) Small fire at farmhouse.  Alarm system response time quick.  Very minimal damage and everyone unharmed.  Shoop cleaned and set up as gear storage area for crew!!  Thanks TH.  Irrigation set up in FG.  Supply, materials, fuel run and bank deposit.  

Greenhouse (277 hrs): Clean up/set up of greenhouse and potting shed. In addition to the foam insulation and heat mats, set up included repurposing of old bunk bed frame covered in plastic for super insulated seedling shelves. Observation of both aphid and white fly infestation on remaining vegetation/weeds on greenhouse floor.  Used a dilution of M-Pede sprayed once a week for three weeks to prevent aphid takeover.  Overview of greenhouse systems for crew including: circulating fans, inflation, ventilation fan and vents, heat and thermostat and waterline.  Humane (hopefully) removal of resident mouse family found living large up in the pilot light box. Temporary “plastic wall” put up sectioning off a portion of the greenhouse to be heated for plant starts.  Greenhouse heat officially turned on. Check air and soil temperatures and be sure ventilation and all systems working properly.  Watering schedule begins. Formal introduction to seeding given for trainees as needed.  (3/7)Seeding begins with an early seeding of tomatoes that are destined for greenhouse production.  Seeded 1st round of herbs and onions.  Additional greenhouse seeding orders for NSF and wholesale orders gets things really rolling.  (3/12) Started seeding our first field succession of veggies (calculated $4/tray in labor and supplies).  By end of month there is a fluid routine now preparing greenhouse order forms, compost sifting, mixing potting soil batches, seeding, watering, thinning and repeat.  New hose installed in greenhouse!! Bye bye leaks…for now.  Supply run to Griffin Greenhouse to purchase Greenhouse Poly ($1,985 for two rolls).  New “skin” pulled on and secured to Ralph’s House and Farmhouse Gothic.  Weeded Farmhouse Gothic mulched pathways (2cubic yards and 8wkhrs.).  BY received verbal and practical training/orientation in greenhouse management and production; from office forms and inventory to irrigation and watering schedules.

Composting (48 hrs):  Compost sifting for greenhouse potting soil mix is underway (1 bucket load = 1 ½ barrels sifted compost).  MR cleaned up compost area with tractor in preparation for today’s compost delivery.  A second compost delivery recorded.  Big trailer loaded and used to compost older apple trees in farmhouse yard.  Composted beds in Farmhouse Gothic and Ralph’s House.  Composted blackberries.     

Compost Load

Planting (20hrs):  (3/3) Frost seeded clover and mix of old Timothy and orchard grass over Permaculture Field Western Hay Section in an attempt to establish a hay crop for harvest later in the season.  Farmhouse Gothic cleaned up and prepared for planting of edible greens; Special care was taken to minimize carry over of tomato blight. (3/22) Seeded small patch of peas (2×100’ rows) in corner garden.  (3/22) Direct seeding of beds in Farmhouse Gothic with greens.  Ralph’s House prepared for seeding/planting.  Planted dwarf cherries in VegBNP west end.  (3/30) Seeded lettuce in RH. 

Crop Care (109hrs):  Cleaned up asparagus beds by quick weeding and cutting back dead plant stalks to 2-4” above ground.  Cleaned up grapes in corner garden to make way for grape trellis to be installed.  Peaches, Cherries and young apple trees pruned.  Blackberries pruned/cleaned up this month as well.  (3/14)Introduction to apple tree pruning and practical on oldest apple trees (assassin bug eggs discovered on trees.  Set up irrigation, rebar hoops and covered newly seeded greens in FG with perforated plastic.  Asparagus mulched with compost. Weeding begins in the Corner Garden with reports of ground ivy take over.

Harvesting (2hrs): Harvested overwintered spinach from field tunnel.

Handling (5hrs): Weekly egg washing, sorting, boxing and labeling. (1.5hrs. yields 16 dozen)

Marketing (4hrs):  Weekly delivery of eggs to WEC.

Special Projects (2hrs):  Farm Manger meets with mentor (JHR) to discuss this year’s manager focus, financial details, price tracking and an update on recent farmhouse improvements. Work begins on “House spinach trial” in an effort to supply high value product to Nomad Pizza. A weekly seeding routine is established.  “Basil Trial” tacked on to spinach.   Dedicated shelving for microgreens project constructed;  Issues with humidity and overheating addressed.  Soil samples taken on first five plots and layed out to dry; Project goal is to sample all of the production plots on the farm this year.  Conducting a one month soil inoculation trial in our greenhouse potting mix.

Spinach Trial


Week 1:  Weeks ends with heavy snow.

Week 2: Snow cover quickly melts with warming weather.

Week 3: Cold Winds and some snow followed by rain leaving saturated conditions.

Week 4: Continued freezing conditions but the sun is shining.  Heavy snow at the end of the month.

Crop Care Summary 2013

Posted by Kyle in Crop Care - (Comments Off on Crop Care Summary 2013)

Crop Care Summary 2013

KG 1/08/14

My intention when taking on the Crop Care element back in the beginning of 2013 was to increase the efficiency and regularity of the crop care activities on the farm. Looking back now at the end of the season I feel as though, for the most part, that goal was accomplished. Implementation of a Crop Care Task list combined with weekly field walks was a major aid in keeping up with the requirements of the crops and the pressure of the weeds. In addition, experimentation with various techniques for cultivation and care yielded some good results in determining more efficient practices. Finally, some end of the year number crunching produced a few key insights into required equipment that could be used for future planning.

The Crop Care Task List (pictured above) is a simple sheet to be used on field walks to note anticipated crop care tasks for the coming weeks. With headings for “Crop”, “Location”, “Task”, and “Priority” all pertinent information can be recorded and any pressing tasks can be added to the farm’s task list and brought to the attention of the rest of the crew. Hanging the list in an accessible area near our daily task list also encouraged crew to observe the list. Often times activities on the farm can get focused on one area for a period of time and as a result other areas are neglected. I felt having this fuller picture of the farm available for the crew without requiring everyone to take time out of their day for a field walk helped keep everyone oriented on the whole picture of the farm. Also, anyone looking for a job to plug into could simply consult the task list for jobs based on priority and/or whether progress could be made or completed by one person. Checking finished jobs off the list is also great for a sense of accomplishment. So looking back after a season of using a checklist for crop care my conclusion is that it is worth it. It only takes 15 minutes to do the field walk and create the list, which is certainly worth it given the benefits doing so yields. I think a Crop Care Task list is something I would continue to use in the future.


Crop Care Equipment Numbers

Drip Tape

We use 220’ field beds, adding together all of our plantings this past season we ended up with about 80 beds for a total of 17,600’. Add to that our flower field of (30 X 75’ beds for 2250’) and you get a total length of crop beds of 19,850’. We use 8 mil drip tape at 12” spacing, which comes in 7,500’ rolls. That comes to 2.6 or so rolls for a season of growing, a 3 roll order if we’re out.


Remay is a lightweight cloth material we use to cover crops in order to protect them from cold and pest damage. With the exception of a few more delicate crops we use remay at the beginning and end of our growing season. Experience has shown that we need to cover around 16 field beds at any one time as well as a number of our Big Garden Beds (8 or more). In the past we had used different width pieces for the different jobs, single row covers for the field and wider pieces for the BGBs. However having experimented with different sizes it seems 16’ width is ideal for North Slope. It fits the BGB’s without too much excess material left in the pathways. At the same time it can fit 3 field beds, 4 if they are spaced more tightly. Covering more beds with fewer pieces is much more convenient: fewer pieces to handle and store, fewer sandbags to haul, and quicker to cover/uncover crops. We reuse what we can and labeling the remay when it’s rolled up is a big help when it comes finding the right piece. For 16 field beds and 8 BGBs we would need around 1700’ of remay, or two rolls.

Tomato Stakes

The past few years we’ve grown about 8 X 220’ rows of field tomatoes. We use a combination of metal and wooden stakes with trellising to support our tomatoes as they grow. Every two tomatoes we have a stake, and every two wooden stakes we have a metal one. See Pattern Below:

M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t- M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t- M-t-t-W-t-t-W-t-t-M

t: tomato plant

M: metal stake

W: wood stake

With the tomato plants having a 2 foot spacing, we have a stake every 4 feet. 220’/4 is 55 stakes total. Dividing 55 by 3 gets you 18.3, that’s how many metal stakes per bed and (18.3 X 2) 36.6 is how many wooden stakes per bed are required for this pattern. When creating this order we round up and add a couple extra. 20 metal per bed X 8 beds is 160 metal stakes, 40 wood X 8 beds is 320. That is our yearly need for tomato stakes to trellises our field tomatoes, checking that against our inventory we know what we need to order for the next season. Last year for example, we used a number of our metal tomato stakes to trellis our blackberries and needed to order replacements.


Cultivation Tools and Techniques

At North Slope we use a variety of options for the cultivation of our crops, from hand weeding on up to mechanical cultivation using tractors. This past year we added a few new tools/techniques including a backpack flame weeder and an older BSC rototiller for cultivation. Below I will explain our practice and add my observations taken over the past year.

Hand Weeding

Hand weeding is one of the more tedious jobs on the farm and one of my goals this past year while focusing on crop care was to reduce how much of it we had to do. To achieve this I tried to time other cultivation activities for maximum impact. Even with good timing however, hand weeding is a necessity. Our salad mix and other crops in the BGB’s in particular require some hand weeding at some point. The best case scenario is to hand weed after a second scuffle hoeing, were the only remaining weeds are those growing tightly interspersed with the crop. Two crew hand weeding is probably the realistic minimum, however progress will be slow and therefore it becomes hard to sustain motivation and keep up efficiency. 3-4 crew would be a better minimum, to allow for some leap-frogging down the bed. 4-6 is better, as crew can work in pairs across from each other and still jump down the bed as they reach previously weeded sections. Working with an odd number it is a good idea to take turns jumping back and forth across the bed to keep the group together. Working close enough together for a conversation greatly helps moral. We have a variety of hand hoes, diggers, choppers, etc; however those seem most useful in perennial bed hand weeding, for our BGBs it seems hands are faster.

Scuffle Hoeing

We use scuffle hoes, or stirrup hoes, from Johnny’s. These are a great tool for cultivation, and it pays to have one for every crew member as a full crew scuffle hoeing can clear a lot of weeds in an afternoon. Scuffle hoes are best used when weeds are at thread stage, before they start getting hardy, and in drier conditions if possible. Scuffle hoeing in wet conditions can be less effective or impossible and disturbed weeds my also re-root if enough moisture is available. Scuffle hoes do a shallow cultivation that doesn’t bring up too much new weed seed. Two crew minimum works well, however one person can still accomplish a lot. Two people scuffle hoeing can usually weed one BGB (110’x4’) or one field bed in about 10-15 minutes. With a larger crew of 3-6 it’s possible to very quickly cultivate a couple of beds in a few minutes of down time between jobs or spend a half or a whole day really cleaning up the farm. In the BGBs we seed in rows diagonally across the bed spaced tightly so our 3 ¼’ scuffle hoes just fit between the crop, this makes for very efficient hoeing. It seems best to hoe initially right after germination and then again 1-2 weeks later depending growth. After the second hoeing, hand weeding is usually needed but quicker as the hoeing has cleaned most of the weeds. From here with quick crops like our cut leaf salad mix, ideally the crop growth out competes the weeds and we can get to harvest without too much more crop care. With longer term crops like carrots a 3rd hoeing may be possible but another round of hand weeding is usually needed. In the field beds, regular scuffle hoeing can be effective at keeping beds clean. In my experience two people working across from each other is the best set up, with each person hoeing perpendicular to the other creating an X pattern around the crop rather than each individually trying to fully clear around a plant by themselves. Extra crew can be added to leap frog and/or focus on the bed shoulders. In any case, communication is important so everyone knows there role in the process. When the crop is too mature for mechanical tractor cultivation this system works well with the BCS pathway cultivation. In both cases removing the irrigation tube or tape is necessary to be most efficient. Irrigating after hoeing seems to really boost crop growth.

Backpack Flame Weeder

For the first time in a while at North Slope we got the old propane backpack flame weeder down from the barn top and got it working. It was a bit finicky and difficult to get going, and seemed to cut out after 30 minutes of use, however we managed to use it to good effect. Carrots are slower growing and are harder to keep weed free as the weeds will germinate first, obscuring the rows and making scuffle hoeing difficult. By flame weeding at 5-7 days after seeding but before the carrots really start germinating most of these early weeds can be killed, and since the soil is not disturbed new weed seed does not come to the surface making for lighter weeding later on. Timing is vital with flame weeding, daily observation is necessary to find the right moment. However, once, while flame weeding a bit late, after the first carrots had already begun germinating, the results were not too bad as enough of the seed was still in the ground to give us a good yield. It seemed that one tank of propane would last us 3-5 BGBs and was fairly cheap to refill. It is not necessary to burn the weeds, the heat is what kills. A fairly steady pace should be maintained, moving the flame nozzle back and forth as you walk down the bed. It takes about 10 minutes to flame weed one BGB and the head start it gives the carrots is very noticeable. It will be 2-3 weeks before scuffle hoeing is needed and by then the carrots will be well established.

Wheel Hoe

We mostly use a wide scuffle hoe attachment on our wheel hoes for cultivating field bed shoulders and pathways. The wheel hoe’s efficiency depends greatly on soil conditions and level of weed growth. In the right conditions, dry but not too dry and weeds at thread stage, it can be a breeze to clean up a field after scuffle hoeing between crops. It takes 3-4 passes to clear from bed shoulder to bed shoulder, and in good conditions it took 2 crew wheel hoeing less than an hour to clean up a 16 bed field. The wheel hoe works best when moving at a brisk pace and can be a bit of a work out. In anything but ideal conditions however, the wheel hoe can be unpleasant to use. When going out to a field for weeding it’s good to bring them and test to see if conditions are good for use, however using the BCS was faster and more versatile in all soil conditions.

The Old BCS Rototiller “El Duce”

We use a BCS walk-behind rototiller as part of our bed preparations in the BGBs. Most BCS’s rototillers depth can be set and changed fairly easily, so cultivating can be done quickly when using the shallowest setting. We had an old BCS with a number of mechanical issues, however we managed to get running and used it this past season for cultivation of field bed shoulders and pathways. The older model we have is narrower and fit nicely down our pathways even, for the most part, with mature crops. This was a great benefit, because at a certain point crops become too tall for our tractors to mechanically cultivate. With the BCS we still had a quick and efficient way to keep those mature crops weed free. Taking two passes on a pathway lets the operator focus once on each bed edge and really get close to the crop. Soil is also tossed out from the rototiller in a way that can smother weeds another couple of inches into the bed. The old BSC also has functioning differential braking, allowing for a lot of fine control to get close to the crop. Combining the BSC cultivation with scuffle hoeing for field crops seemed to be an efficient way to control weeds in mature crops. Hoe after the BSC has gone through the pathways, otherwise you may end up hoeing more than you needed to as the BCS can safely get very close to the crop.

Special Instructions for operating the old BCS (El Duce)

Some important notes and warnings for anyone planning to use the old BCS in future: the old BCS is DANGEROUS! Only attempt to use it if you are comfortable and confident with machinery! Firstly, the clutch does not work correctly. You should still engage the clutch to shift, but do not expect this to work while the machine running. It must be rolled into place for starting, and started already in gear. Doing this with two people is safer, one to control the machine while the other pulls the start cord, however it is possible for one person to start it, just be sure to get clear when it starts moving which it will do as soon as started. Secondly, the gear selector rod is missing. Use a small hammer or rock (shifter rock) to tap the gear shift into position. The gears are no longer where they should be according to the machine’s indicator, nearly all the way tapped forward you should find 3rd gear which is best for cultivation and slightly back from there you should find neutral. Remember, only shift gears with the machine off as the clutch cannot be trusted! Thirdly, the safety shut off is also not reliable. Stop the machine using the choke, always have space to continue forward or turn. Do not operate the machine in close proximity to other people or animals because you cannot rely on it to stop quickly. Fourthly, the PTO cannot be disengaged. This means the rototiller will always be spinning, so BE CAREFUL. Throttle down and lift for making turns, but keep well clear of the spinning blades. Occasionally the PTO will disengage itself while working; it can be reengaged but not reliably disengaged. Be especially careful when loading and unloading from the ATV trailer if you do so with the machine running as the rototiller will also be running. It is safer to get two people to push it up the ramp manually. Even if loading or unloading manually be aware of the machine’s weight and be sure you can get clear should it fall. Don’t try to catch it! Finally, always pay full attention while using the machine. Even more so than the newer BCS, the old one is lighter and jumps significantly when it hits a large rock and I’ve had it both move backwards towards me and shoot forwards at considerable speed. Always keep in mind where you will go to get clear of the machine should this happen. Also, the choke pin may slide out while operating, opening the choke. You will notice the sound of the engine changing, be quick to push it back or you will have to restart the machine.

Even with all those difficulties I still enjoyed using the machine and I think it’s a great cultivation option, especially with a more functional model. However, I really would not recommend anyone with any doubts or concerns to use “El Duce”, it is not worth getting hurt for.

Mechanical Cultivation- Williams Toolbar

Two years ago North Slope Farm got a new cultivating tractor, an IH 265. Before this mechanical cultivation was done with the IH140 using a series of shanks, spiders, and sweeps, all individual implements that would need to be rearranged for each job. Since the IH140 is also used for building our beds this meant a lot of time changing the setup. Having two tractors meant having to do that less often. More than this though, the new 265 has a 3-point hitch letting us make use of our Williams Toolbar. The Williams Toolbar is a steel frame with a number of adjustable spring tines and two bars on which other implements can be attached. Having one implement you can dial in for a tight cultivation and leave set up is a great time saver. It can be picked up, quickly checked and tuned and ready for the field in less than 10 minutes. And once the operator is comfortable with the toolbar, cultivating a 16 bed field can be done very quickly. We plant two rows per bed for the most part so once the crop hits a certain size it becomes difficult to cultivate the center strip using the toolbar, however the toolbar can still clear the bed edges and pathways leaving only the center strip to be scuffle hoed. When the plants become fully mature it can be difficult or impossible to cultivate using the toolbar at all, as even the retracted spring tines will rip and damage some crops. However the easy adjustability of the spring tines gives some flexibility in quickly moving between crops of different size. The Williams Toolbar can be used at all stages of the crop, until they are too large to drive over, and works well enough that it can really be the only cultivation method needed for the first few cultivations. A quick touch up scuffle hoeing helps keep the few missed weeds from maturing before the next round with the toolbar and is fairly quick. The key with the toolbar, as with all of the other cultivation options, is with timing. The toolbar will eliminate thread stage weeds and be effective slightly beyond that point to baby/adolescent stages. After that however, as we observed while experimenting with the toolbar and bare fallowing some prebuilt beds, the toolbar is not effective at killing grown weeds.



Taking on the Crop Care element as a focus in my third year here was a valuable experience. I got to really be involved with the various crop care tasks and develop a good understanding of the needs of the crops. Being focused on crop care also helped me to hone my knowledge of weed varieties and learn and trial effective means for dealing with them. I also had the opportunity to gain experience managing a crew in the execution of crop care jobs, keeping task oriented and efficiently moving from one job to the next making the most of limited time. More than anything, having this as my focus drove home the preeminent importance of timing with regards to cultivation. Having done the planting focus and crop plan my second year and crop care focus my third year I feel I’ve gained some good experience in some key areas of farm activity, and  I feel having chosen these to focus on has prepared me well for my future career in farming.