A friend recently asked me what was happening on the farm. I told him we’d been spending a lot of time crop planning. He then asked how you made a crop plan, so I told him: what crops should we grow, and how much of each, and when should we plant them, and how many successions, and where should we plant them, and how much seed will we need…
“Oh,” he said, “it’s like a word problem.”
Yes. Our crop plan word problem might go something like this:
Two delightful farmers, Laura and Ariel, are starting a CSA on an acre of land. If they want to give each of their 20 CSA members 2 pounds of summer squash every week for ten weeks, how much summer squash do they need to plant? Keep in mind the following details: the expected yield of the summer squash, which weeks they want to distribute it, its days to maturity, how long they can expect to harvest each planting, how many beds each planting will take up, and if they’ll be able to plant something else in the same spot before or after the squash. Oh, and by the way, there are about 25 other crops they are looking into growing. Keep that in mind. And they only have an acre. And it’s a good idea to plan for unexpected contingencies.
It’s a lot of work, especially on such a small and intensive scale, where we don’t have a lot of space to mess around with, and we’ll be doing a lot of double cropping. To make it manageable, we’ve broken the process down into several steps.
First we decided how to lay out our field. We’re going to make all of our beds 50 feet. There are a couple reasons for this. Because we have such a small CSA, we don’t need a huge amount of any crop at the same time. It doesn’t make sense to grow a 300′ bed of arugula when we’re only feeding 20-30 people! In 50′ beds, we can plant small amounts of a lot of different things. Small beds also make it easy to double crop. Double cropping is when you plant two different crops (not including cover crops) on the same piece of land over the course of a season. With only an acre, this is imperative – otherwise, we simply wouldn’t have enough space. Short 50′ beds allow for a quick turnover. We can plant a 50′ bed of arugula, harvest it for a week, and then prepare the land for something else the next week.
Because, when doing a word problem, it helps to draw a picture, we made a map of our field.
This is a map of our two plots of land – our main field, and the wetter field behind the farmstand, what we’re calling “Out Back”. We divided the main field in half, with a 3′ path down the middle. We then marked out the 50′ beds that would fit into our 200 x 150 foot rectangle. The long bed around the edge is our perimeter pick-your-own. We divided the Out Back into 3 sections, with 5′ paths between each section. Having our fields split up into sections will help us plan for crop rotation (we can put crops of the same families all in one section, for instance).
Here’s a close up of the map of our main field:
The hard part, of course, is filling the blank map. For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking each vegetable we might possibly grow and determining how much I think we’ll need. Based on my experience in other CSAs, I came up with how many weeks we’d like to give each vegetable to our CSA members, and how much we’d like to distribute each week. I then determined the total amount we’ll need per week, and the total amount for the whole season. Next I adjusted this number by 20% (most farmers adjust 10% to account for crop failure and other unexpected happenings). I figured for our first season running a farm on this land, we can’t have too big a cushion! Next step: how many total beds we’ll need of the vegetable, and how many successions to plant. For some crops, like tomatoes, we’ll only plant a few successions, about a week apart (early, main, and late.) For other crops, like head lettuce, we’ll plant every other week starting in April and going through August. For crops like lettuce, I had to figure out how many beds we’ll need per succession. Whew! Farming is feeling pretty math-heavy these days!
With all this information entered in a spreasheet, and a blank map of our field, we’re ready for the real fun of crop planning: solving the word problem. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.