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.
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.
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.
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.