Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Planning for 2011 Growing Season Like a 50-acre Jigsaw Puzzle

What a difference a week makes! Since last week when I was writing this article we've had a major snowstorm, rain, and windy and sunny days. The snow that piled up so high last Friday is all but gone now. OK by me. The farm looks much like it did last week at this time except we have perhaps less snow; the view out my window is exactly what I saw last week.

The greens in the poly tunnel are growing nicely now. They should be ready for harvesting at any time and we need to think about planting spring greens soon. We overwintered some onions in an unheated poly tunnel and will plant some onion plants this week in there as well, so we'll have plenty of fresh onions long before the field onions are ready. I like fresh onions, in fact I like all onions, and will be sure to grow them in my garden this year.

Planning where all the crops are going continues this week. I placed the big crops last week and will get the smaller ones placed this week. We have lots of crops this year. I am looking forward to a busy and rewarding season. Field planning is a lot like a big jigsaw puzzle; every crop has its needs like proximity to water, labor requirements, isolation distances and fertility needs. Some crops have a much larger acreage requirement than others; tomatoes need about six acres (261,360 square feet) whereas the Okra trial takes up more like 500 square feet. 99% of our crops are planted on "beds". Beds are six feet wide and vary in length according to the crop needs and the field sizes.

On each bed there are one, two or three rows depending on the crop and the goal of each crop. Some beds are covered with plastic mulch and some are simply "bare ground". Beds get one, two or three rows depending, yes again, on the crops' needs. Squash and pumpkins, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes go one row per bed on plastic, Peppers get two rows per bed on plastic, lettuce gets three rows per bed on bare ground. Most small seeded crops like lettuce, greens, salad mixes and onions go three row per bed. Our small cultivating tractor can cultivate three rows easily and the crops will "canopy" over as they grow and will shade out the weeds.

Once I get the general plan done then, of course, there has to be a contingency plan in case we have a wet spring and can't get on to certain fields in our given timeframe so we have to plan a secondary location if needed.  Planning the fields needs to take all the different planting schemes into account along with the timeframe for working all of these fields – and how many are there? This year we will farm 27 individual fields in 6 different locations and covering 53 acres. We have to think about crop rotations, what crop performs best where, where the deer pressure will be the greatest, insect and weed issues of the fields, distance and availability of irrigation water and nuances garnered throughout the years. And then we'll put all this together and call it our field plan for 2011.

In the field plan we'll have all the crops listed and the bedfeet and acreage required. We'll have some extra ground prepared in case we have extra plants we want to plant. Nothing quite like running out of prepared ground before we run out of plants!  We'll have our fertilizer plans – what we're going to use and the rate and date applied. We'll add notes for plant spacing in the rows as needed, and we'll put part and lot numbers as assigned to the crops. And once we get this all done, we'll blow it up and post it where everyone can see it so, hopefully, there won't be any question about where something is planted.

If this sounds like a lot of planning it is, but it's a necessary part of the whole plan. I can look back over the years to see what did well where and what didn't do so well where. We can look at crop inputs, disease, weed, and insect pressure, isolation issues, and weather problems that have helped to complete a banner growing year or contribute to a poor season.  Some things I have just in my head, like to slope of the fields and the thirty year history of many of these fields; stuff that probably wouldn't be of much interest to anyone else but me.

This makes planning my garden look pretty easy.
Until next week, enjoy the last throes of winter,

1 comment:

Greg said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and insight!!!