Crop planning

Josh and I have been spending most mornings recently developing our crop plan for 2012.  It’s a big process, and a little overwhelming at times.  We started by reviewing last year’s CSA distribution plan and actual harvest records in order to develop a new CSA distribution plan.  For example, the plan from 2011 was for broccoli to be distributed in week 17, so we planted broccoli in the field 65 days before then (and six weeks in the greenhouse before then), but the broccoli was ready in week 15.  Go figure.  And the broccoli that we planted in the spring didn’t amount to much and the flavor was off, so we’re going to skip spring broccoli and do more spinach, and adjust the timing of the fall broccoli.

Developing the CSA distribution plan is fun, knowing that not everyone likes the same things, trying to vary the shares while highlighting the best of what’s in season and giving people the opportunity to expand their taste buds.  Do you really want green beans every week for 11 weeks? And how often should we distribute carrots, or eggplant, or turnips?  We’re working harder to make the shares more even throughout the season (instead of skimpy in the spring and over-abundant in autumn), and would like to include some kind of salad green in every week, and some kind of cooking green in most weeks.  We’re cutting back on a few things–no point growing popcorn, since it’s not ready to distribute by the end of the CSA season.  And if you want melons, you’d best plan to get the fruit share from Schaeffer Farm.  We’ve had some requests for fava beans, and more edamame, and we’d like to try Chinese cabbage and tatsoi.  At least our market style pick up gives people the opportunity to pass on items that will rot in their fridge!

Once we’ve got the CSA distribution plan laid out, we move on to the general crop rotation plan.  We try to make sure that each of our 28 plots grows a variety of plants, and that there is at least three years between crops in the same family.  Different crops have different nutrient needs, cultivation practices, susceptibility to disease and pests, and effects on following crops, so we vary the plants in each plot in a somewhat systematic way.  Last year’s pepper plot will be planted in spring peas, to be followed by fall brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, collards, and the like); last year’s cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, melons, etc.) were followed by a planting of winter rye; this year okra and sweet potatoes will go there; and so on.

Now we’re at the stage of going through the CSA distribution plan and figuring out how to fit the plantings into the space we have allotted for them.  Spinach in week 1?  In order for all 50 shares to get a half-pound bag, we’ll need 25 pounds of spinach, which will take approximately 60 feet and 13,000 seeds (if we’re optimistic about germination rate and yield!).  That will be planted in plot 6, bed 2 on March 27 .  Tatsoi in week 4?  That will get started in the greenhouse on April 6 and transplanted to plot 4, bed 1 on May 17.  We’ll only need about 100 mature plants, and with plants spaced every 8″ in beds 30″ wide, we’ll need about 15 feet.  And so it goes, calculators in hand, seed catalogs and maps and charts spread out on the table.  With plans to distribute 6-8 items each week for 22 weeks, that’s about 175 plantings to plan for, plus there’s multiple varieties of many items–some kinds of lettuce grow better in the spring, others can tolerate the summer heat.  We like variety!  Of course we’ll do Sungold tomatoes again, and probably 15 or 20 other kinds as well, and 6 or 8 kinds of sweet peppers, and a cheerful assortment of summer squash, and a bouquet of radishes, not to mention a smattering of asian greens.  We’re using a new software program to help us with this process, called AgSquared.   The jury’s still out on whether this tool is going to be an improvement over the worksheets I had developed in Microsoft Works.

There are so many crops that we need to do better at growing–lettuce, onions, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, to name a few—and so many gaps in our record keeping that our plans still feel like a shot in the dark.  And who knows what the weather will throw our way?  So we overplant, at the same time aware of the limitations of our space–just 38,000 square feet, at last count.  And there are so many new varieties we’d like to try, and questions about which seeds to buy.  Should we spend the extra money to purchase certified organic seed?  While $.90/seed (for the cucumber variety Tyria, those long Dutch cucumbers that are individually wrapped and sell for $2 each at Giant) sounds atrociously expensive, will the improved yield and disease resistance make it a worthwhile investment?   Should we try to grow open-pollinated plants so that we can save our seeds to make the farm more sustainable?  So many options, so many decisions.  And people think farmers take the winter off! 🙂

We haven’t put our seed orders in yet, so if you have strong feelings about what kind of vegetables you’d like us to grow, drop us a line!  And remember, it’s just a plan!

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One Response to Crop planning

  1. Alexander says:

    I am in strong favor of open pollinated seeds. With the possibility of corporate entities buying the rights to plants still on the horizon I feel it is imperative to be prepared with our own supplies.

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