The Farmer and the Dell

During the summer, I get a great tan.  During the winter, I get carpel tunnel.  Well, thankfully I haven’t yet, but considering the amount of time I spend in front of a computer, I ought to.  In addition to spending more time with my kids, doing slightly more of my share of the household maintenance tasks, and reading some books, I’ve been working on CROP PLANNING.  That is, I’m trying to figure out the what, what kind, where, when, and how much of each crop to plant.  My other term for it is “sudoku on steroids.”  Here’s why.

Over the years I’ve developed a variety of worksheets and established a simple crop database to help me with this process.   One tool is a general crop family rotation schedule.  The field is divided into 14 plots, each approximately 20’x75′.  I try to keep crop families (such as brassicas, alliums, legumes, nighshades, etc.) together in a plot, and plant families in different plots each year.  This helps both to reduce disease and pest issues as well as managing nutrients and weeds.  I also try to plant cover crops to feed the soil as often as possible (though mostly in winter).  We call this our “map through time and space.”  I started doing this back in 2006 and have things planned out through 2012. 

Next, I’ve developed a spacing chart that’s specific to Joshua Farm and our growing practices (i.e., mostly transplanting, weeding, and harvesting by hand instead of with machines).  Most of the crops are planted in intensive beds, each 30″ wide (the width of one pass of the rototiller).  With 18″ paths, we can fit five beds in each plot.

This year, just to make things interesting, I decided to go back to the drawing board for the CSA.  Using customer feedback, harvest records, estimated yields, etc. I developed a target share for each week of the CSA.  I used that document to develop a planting schedule.  For example, if I want to be able to distribute radishes during the first week of the CSA (somewhere around May 24), and radishes need 28 days to grow, then I need to plant the radishes around April 26.  And if I want each shareholder to get a large bunch  (8-10) of radishes and we have 50 shareholders, then I need 500 radishes, but should probably plant more in case of germination challenges or pest problems, and so forth.

We are really trying to ramp up production and fine tune our planting in 2011, so I took the additional step this year of mapping out the crop plan in detail.  Every planting (and there are 235 separate planting events) has a coordinate on the map–a specific bed.  We do a lot of succession planting (for example, 24 plantings of lettuce, 4 of green beans, 6 of cilantro, etc.) as well as a lot of relay cropping (planting the same space multiple times).  I was pretty excited that almost all of the crops on my master list actually fit into the space that we have, though I had to bump out sweet corn and popcorn and change my plans to put one or two plots into a no-till cover crop for a season.

Anyway, it’s been a mostly fun process, though I’m well aware of the fact that the plans may be a far cry from the reality.  A good plan doesn’t guarantee a good harvest any more than a good lesson plan  guarantees that every student will pass the test, but it’s a start.  Now, let the planting begin!

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One Response to The Farmer and the Dell

  1. Shawna says:

    Love the title. And very interesting. I love how technology is helping to fine tune all of the knowledge that you have from farmers past and your own experience. Very cool. I have a feeling this will be a great planting season!

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