Crop Planning. Pam Dawling 60 min presentation


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Closing the planning circle: produce vegetable crops when you want them and in the right quantities; sell them where and when you need to and support yourself with a rewarding livelihood while replenishing the soil. Make the most productive use of your land. Pace yourself through the growing season. 12 steps form a planning cycle. Start with the money you need to earn, get help setting prices, determining costs, choosing profitable crops, and deciding how to market them. Consider growing your own starts, extending the seasons in all directions, including using hoophouses. Calculate how much you need to harvest, work back to determine how much of which crops to plant and when to plant them. Study likely yields and add a margin for culls. Draw up field planting schedules, greenhouse seedling schedules and your harvest schedule of what you expect when. Map your fields and pack in your crops, bearing in mind crop rotations and cover crops.
Consider crop spacing and row layout. Plan succession cropping, intercropping (relay planting) and double cropping. Keep yourself a list of ideas in case anything goes wrong. Step back and look at the overview to find any improvements you could make. Record what happens during the year, so next year's plan can be even better. This presentation ends with 5 slides of valuable resources.

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  • Carrots provide the same maximum yield at very different densities. The weight of tiny carrots from very crowded beds can be the same as the weight of giant carrots from carefully cultivated and thinned beds (or from precision-sown pelleted seed).
  • Silver Queen.
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  • Crop Planning. Pam Dawling 60 min presentation

    1. 1. Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production Closing the planning circle: produce crops when you want them and in the right quantities; sell them where and when you need to and support yourself with a rewarding livelihood while replenishing the soil. ©Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming
    2. 2. What’s in This Presentation • Why make detailed plans? • How to plan? Helpful tools • Step by step planning. 12 steps 1. How much money 2. Which markets to sell at 3. Which crops to grow 4. Harvest schedule 5. How much to plant 6. Field Planting schedule 7. Seedling/Transplant schedule 8. Maps 9. Packing more in 10. Adjust and tweak 11. Plan B 12. Next Year’s Better Plan • Lots of Resources
    3. 3. Why Plan? On-farm Rewards ҉Plan in the winter, farm in the growing season! ҉Make the most productive use of your land. ҉Pace yourself through the growing season ҉Reduce stress and confusion, know what’s where and when! ҉Planning gets easier each year - tweak last year’s plan. ҉Become a better farmer - keep good records, fine- tune your plans every year.
    4. 4. Market Rewards for Planning ҉ Earn a living! ҉ Great reputation as a grower selling what customers want. ҉ Information at your fingertips - when broccoli will start, or cucumbers end. ҉ Full CSA bags, groaning market tables every week ҉ Balance each week: some leafy crop, something brightly colored, something bulky and filling, something new, something highly flavored. ҉ Use your full market season, all your opportunities.
    5. 5. How to Plan? Helpful tools • Be clear about your goals (before choosing tools). • Design a system you like, so you’ll use it. • Do you prefer clipboards, computers, or photos? • There are Web-based Tools, Spreadsheets, Worksheets and Notebooks • Build in the ability to adapt the plan if conditions change.
    6. 6. Web-based Planning AgSquared online planning software: includes a free 30 day trial. • If you already have your plans on spreadsheets, you can import them into AgSquared – you don’t have to start over. • “Smart scheduling” Once you’ve got your information in there, you can adjust a date or row length and the changes will automatically be made to the other relevant spreadsheets. • Space for record-keeping is vast - you can include comments on the weather, pests, soil observations etc which might be helpful later.
    7. 7. COG-Pro is a record keeping software made for Certified Organic Farms. The planning tools include prompts for information needed for certification. It uses a simple tabbed notebook visual and generates reports for the certification process.
    8. 8. Spreadsheets • Make your own, or copy others – see Resources at end • During the year we follow printed sheets - don’t often need the computer. • The program does the calculations. – Enter the number of cabbages wanted, the in-row spacing and the row length - out pops the number of rows. – Quickly round up to a whole number of rows. – Enter the harvest date and the days to maturity - out pops • the transplant date, • the sowing date, • the number of starts • the number of flats to sow. • Quickly sort out selected parts of the information and rearrange it – Get a list of the 46 lettuce sowings in date order, – or the crops planted in the East Garden, – or seed orders sorted by supplier.
    9. 9. Spreadsheets from Johnny’s Johnny’s Selected Seeds has spreadsheet based tools available at
    10. 10. Worksheets • Cindy Conner explains worksheets in her book Grow a Sustainable Diet. • She also sells a DVD/CD set Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan. Aimed primarily at homesteaders, the steps help you figure how many seeds and plants you need, when to plant and where, and when to expect a harvest. • Mark Cain and Daniel Brisebois and Frédéric Thériault Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers, are other good sources for ideas on worksheets.
    11. 11. Big Changes or Small Changes? • If you are changing your farm significantly, you will need to pay close attention to the sequence of planning steps. • If you only need to make small changes, the exact order of planning steps matters less, as a small adjustment can be made without seriously upsetting previous calculations. Twin Oaks Community Gardens. Credit Google
    12. 12. Planning is Circular, Just Like Farming 1. How much money do you need to earn? 2. Which markets to sell at 3. Which crops to grow 4. How much of what to harvest when: Harvest Schedule 5. How much to grow to achieve your harvest goals 6. Calculate sowing dates to meet harvest dates: Field Planting Schedule7. When to sow for transplants: Seedlings Schedule 8. Where to plant each sowing of each crop: Maps 9. Packing more in: succession plantings, intercropping, relay planting, double cropping 10. Adjust to make your best possible plan 11. What to do if something goes wrong: Plan B 12. Record results for next year’s Better Plan
    13. 13. Step 1. How much money do you need to earn? • What are your living expenses? • What are your farm expenses? • What do you want to save for old age, rainy days, raising children, college funds. . . • The Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25/hour (Jan 2014), going up to $10.10. Just saying. . . • Do you have other sources of income?
    14. 14. Setting prices The Iowa State University publication Determining Prices for CSA Share Boxes compares pricing based on • what customers will pay, • what other growers are selling the crop for • what it costs to produce. It includes a chart of share value of 24 crops based on grocery prices and the quantity included. Step 1
    15. 15. Enterprise Budgets Vern Grubinger in Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market explains how to make an enterprise budget for each crop. These calculations compare one crop with another, while not delving into overhead costs.  In your Crop Journal, record the amount of work done on each crop each day: o Bed prep, cultivating o Planting, mulching, staking.  Record at each harvest o weight or count of each crop, o time spent harvesting and cleaning it; o money raised from each crop each week.  At the end of the season, add up the total time for each crop o Divide the income for that crop by the time spent on it, and o divide the income for that crop by the area, or number of beds.  Aim for $400/100’ bed per season. The range could be $109-1065. Step 1
    16. 16. Which Crops are Most Profitable? Some crops offer more money per area, some are more profitable in terms of time put in. Clifton Slade at Virginia State University in his 43560 Project aims to show how to earn $43,560 from one acre ($1 per square foot), four times the return of a typical large-scale commercial vegetable production. He recommends choosing crops which produce one vegetable head or stalk, or 1 pound of produce, per square foot, using 5’ x 300’ raised beds. Leafy crops feature prominently. Morris Heading Collards, Photo Kathryn Simmons Step 1
    17. 17. Which Crops are Most Profitable? Richard Wiswall Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook Outdoor kale can produce $2463 from 1/10 acre, and of the crops he compared, only parsley and basil earned more. Field tomatoes came in at $1872, and several vegetables (bush beans, sweet corn, peas) made a loss. Vates kale. Photo Kathryn Simmons Step 1
    18. 18. Which Crops Take Most Attention? Steve Solomon in Gardening When it Counts provides tables of vegetable crops by the level of care they require. His Difficult list includes Bulb onions, leeks, Chinese cabbage, asparagus, celery and celeriac, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, early cabbage and cantaloupe. Onion bed. Photo Kathryn Simmons Step 1
    19. 19. Consider Flowers as Well as Vegetables Mark Cain of Dripping Spring Gardens, Arkansas:  50% of their growing area in cut flowers and 50% in vegetables.  The cut flowers bring in 75% of the income. Photo Tom Freeman, Twin Oaks Flowers Step 1
    20. 20. Reasons to Grow Crops That Don’t Make the Highest Income  provide a good crop rotation for your farm,  provide diversity (customers will only buy so much parsley and basil).  provide for the "back end" of the year when fewer growers are providing produce.  provide fall crops to harvest before serious cold,  provide crops for all-winter harvests,  provide for early spring markets with overwintering crops. Kohlrabi. Photo McCune Porter Step 1
    21. 21. Step 2 Which markets will you sell at?  For most farmers, start with the money you intend to earn and then work from there to achieve that with the land, climate and markets you have.  New growers are often advised to start with a farmers’ market rather than a CSA the first year, as you can sell a more erratic supply of crops at market.  On the other hand, if you have experience from working on another farm, a commitment to careful planning, and you need that upfront beginning-of -season cash, you may decide to start a CSA right away.  If you have an off-farm job to tide you over, it may be practical to leave the financial questions for a year, and build on that experience.
    22. 22. Which Crops to Grow - Consider the Full Eating Season o Direct sowing and transplanting pros and cons o Starting early: transplants o Season extension o Crop protection o Growing and storing cold-hardy winter vegetables Step 3
    23. 23. Direct sowing and transplanting pros and cons Photo Kathryn Simmons  Choose high-yielding varieties suited to your climate, budget, certificatio n and market  Buy seeds or starts? Is what you want available as plants? Do you need Organic? Is the price worthwhile? Money vs labor.  Do you have the equipment to grow transplants? Step 3
    24. 24. Starting Early: Transplants Pros – Can start seed in more ideal conditions in greenhouse, better germination, more fun! – Can start earlier than outside, get earlier harvests – Easier to care for new seedlings in a greenhouse – Protected plants grow quicker – Can select sturdiest plants, compost the rest – More flexibility if weather turns bad. Plants still grow! – Fit more crops into the season – Use time windows for quick cover crops – Save on seed costs Cons – Need to plan and schedule – Extra time caring for the starts Photo Kathryn Simmons Step 3
    25. 25. Season Extension in Every Season Advantages and disadvantages in time and money  Growing earlier crops in spring: o Choose fast-maturing hardy varieties o Warm microclimates o Transplants o Rowcovers, low tunnels, Quick Hoops, high tunnels (= hoophouses)  Extending the growth of cool-weather crops into summer: o Learn how to germinate seeds in hot weather o Shadecloth o ProtekNet to keep bugs off o Intercropping allows a new crop to establish in the shade of the old one  Extending the survival of frost-tender crops beyond the first fall frosts o Rowcover o Minimizing frost damage  Growing cold-hardy winter vegetables Step 3
    26. 26. Crop Protection • Frost-tender crops can be kept alive and productive beyond the first frosts by using rowcover • Three basic levels of protection: – Rowcovers – Hoophouses (High Tunnels) – Heated greenhouses Photo Kathryn Simmons Step 3
    27. 27. Winter succession crops in the hoophouse To maintain continuous supplies of salad and cooking greens, as well as radishes and small turnips, we plan several winter successions of hoophouse crops. Step 3
    28. 28. Growing and Storing Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables • Four Situations: • Cool weather spring/fall crops to harvest before very cold weather • Crops to keep alive as far into winter as possible • Hardy winter-harvest crops • Overwinter early spring-harvest crops Step 3
    29. 29. Step 4. Your Harvest Schedule • Which crops you want to harvest when, how often and over what length of time, including quantities. • For a CSA, make a Share Schedule, telling sharers what to expect when. • Multiply that up, add a margin for culls and failures, and list how much of each crop to have ready for harvest each week.
    30. 30. How Much to Harvest  The average person eats 160-200 pounds of fresh vegetables per year (USDA)  the average CSA share feeds 2 or 3 people,  an annual share will need to include about 500 pounds of 40- 50 different vegetables, distributed, say, once a week for 8 months and once a month for 4 months.  Many CSAs have a shorter season than this – your call. Photo Bridget Aleshire Step 4
    31. 31. Resources for Quantity Calculations • The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz: – Crop Plan for a Hundred-Member CSA, with planting requirements for 36 crops • Jean-Paul Courtens of Roxbury Farm, Kinderhook, New York: – On his website, you’ll find the 100 Member CSA Plan, including a Weekly Share Plan, Greenhouse Schedule, and Field Planting and Seeding Schedule (with charts of possible crop yields). Step 4
    32. 32. Step 5. How Much to Grow to Achieve Your Harvest Goals Take likely yields and add a margin for culls and failures (10%?). The table I provide in Sustainable Market Farming lists 48 crops, with likely yield, quantity required for 100 CSA shares, and length of row needed to grow this amount.
    33. 33. More Resources on Yields • Some seed companies have tables of likely yields in their catalogs. • Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En Sharing the Harvest. • John Jeavons How to Grow More Vegetables has charts: – Pounds Consumed per Year by the Average Person in the US – Average US Yield in Pounds per 100 Square Feet. – These are particularly useful to small-scale growers, and can be multiplied up by others. Spring brassicas at Twin Oaks. Photo McCune Porter Step 5
    34. 34. Step 6. Harvest Dates Sowing Dates When to sow to meet the harvest dates?  Find the number of days to maturity (from the catalog).  Is that number from seeding to harvest or transplant to harvest?  Work back from each target harvest date, subtracting days to maturity, to give the planting date.  Days to maturity in catalogs are generally for spring planting once conditions have warmed to the usual range for that crop. ‒ If you are starting very early, add about 14 days - seedlings grow slower when cold. ‒ In summer crops mature sooner than in spring. ‒ When growing late into the fall, add about 14 days for the slowdown.
    35. 35. Days to Maturity • “Days to Maturity” usually means “Days to First Harvest” which may not be the same as “Days to Full Harvest”. • With carrots it doesn’t matter exactly what size they are, but an unripe eggplant is just no good. • With CSAs, you can distribute eggplant to some sharers one week, and others the next, although keeping track involves more work. • If it’s important to have a plentiful harvest when you do start, add another 7-14 days. Carrot photo Kathryn Simmons Step 6
    36. 36. Field Planting Schedule Draw up your list of outdoor planting dates, along with varieties, row feet, spacing, notes and space to write down what you actually do. Step 6
    37. 37. Step 7. When to sow for transplants  If the crop is to be transplanted and the catalog doesn’t include the time to grow the transplant, add that. See Sustainable Market Farming.  Use your own experience or the catalog information, or somewhere in between.  In future years you will have your own records to customize your calculations.  Extract the dates to sow for transplants, and make your Seedlings Schedule. Seedlings in Twin Oaks Greenhouse Photo Kathryn Simmons
    38. 38. Seedlings Schedule Step 7 • Pepper transplants. Photo Kathryn Simmons
    39. 39. Step 8. Maps  Where in the fields to plant each sowing of each crop ?  Start filling your map with your major crops remembering crop rotation and cover cropping considerations. Note the spaces for squeezing in other crops
    40. 40. Crop Spacing Yield is related to plant density.  Area per plant is the important bit, not particular row spacing.  There is a balance point at which the plant density provides the maximum total yield. At that density some plants will be too small to use. That’s taken into account when calculating yield.  Crop size (do customers want big carrots or small carrots?)  Disease control (humidity and molds)  Preferred layout (beds with equidistant plants, or rows).  Ease of cultivation (tractor equipment, hoes, horses) and irrigation  For large plants such as okra or eggplant, it makes more sense to plant a single row in a bed and have the plants close together in that row, in a “hedge.” Photo of Morris Heading Collards by Kathryn Simmons Step 8
    41. 41. Step 9 Succession Planting: for warm weather crops, year round lettuce and winter hoophouse crops • Beans, edamame, cucumbers, melons, squash, sweet corn can be produced through the frost-free period. • Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale , spinach can be grown in spring and again in the fall in the Southeast. • Lettuce can be grown year-round • Lettuce, spinach, turnips, radishes, scallions, t atsoi and some other Asian greens can be sown in succession in the winter hoophouse
    42. 42. Rough Plan: Every 2 weeks for beans and corn, Every 3 weeks for squash and cucumbers and edamame Every 4 weeks for carrots 2 or 3 plantings of muskmelons (cantaloupes) at least a month apart. CREDIT: Kathryn Simmons. Step 9
    43. 43. Use sowing and harvest start dates to make graphs. 1. Plot a graph for each crop, with sowing date along the horizontal (x) axis and harvest start date along the vertical (y) axis. Mark in all your data. 2. Mark the first possible sowing date and find the harvest start date for that. 3. Decide the last worthwhile harvest start date, mark that. 4. Then divide the harvest period into a whole number of segments, according to how often you want a new patch. Step 9
    44. 44. Step 9
    45. 45. Intercropping, Relay Planting and Double Cropping • Promptly clearing successions of beans or cucumbers helps with pest and disease control and opens up the space for double-cropping or for more cover crops to replenish the soil • Fast growing crops like lettuce, radishes and greens can be planted between or alongside slower- growing crops to generate more income and diversity • We grow peas with spinach, peanuts with lettuce, okra with cabbage Photo Kathryn Simmons Step 9
    46. 46. Step 10. Look at the Overview - Adjust to Make Your Best Possible Plan • Can’t fit everything in? Do you need to drop crops or change your plant quantities? • Always keep your highest priorities in mind – best markets, signature crops, personal needs. • Use all available space for food crops or cover crops • Check timings of seedlings – do you have enough germinating capacity? • Is it physically possible to do all the transplanting you plan in the time allotted? • Simplify planting dates, eg squash and cucumbers on the same days. Tyee spinach in a relay with snap peas. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons
    47. 47. Step 11. What to do if something goes wrong: Plan B Have a brainstorm list to help deal with disasters:  Do immediate damage control to stop the problem getting worse  Ask for help from sharers, neighbors, kids,  Plant some quick-growing crops to substitute for crop failures  Salvage anything you can and process it in some way to sell later.  Buy from other local growers to tide you over  Team up with other growers, share a market booth, save on the rent  Write down what went wrong and why, so you don’t have the same problem next year Senposai can be harvested 40 days from sowing. Photo Kathryn Simmons
    48. 48. Step 12. Record results for next year’s Better Plan: • Make recording easy to do • Have a daily practice of writing down what was done that day • Allow time for that, without losing too much of your lunch break • Delegate to reliable people • During the main growing season, we don’t do a lot of paperwork. We record planting dates and harvest start and finish dates on our Planting Schedule. • At the beginning of the winter, have a Crop review meeting, discuss and write up what worked and what didn’t, to learn from the experience and do better next year. • Adjust dates to halfway between last year’s plan and whatever actually happened - gradually zero in on the likely date without wild pendulum swings based on variable weather.
    49. 49. Resources - General  ATTRA  Market Farming: A Start-up Guide,  Scheduling Vegetable Plantings for a Continuous Harvest  Season Extension Techniques for Market Farmers  Intercropping Principles and Production Practices  Plugs and Transplant Production for Organic Systems  SARE at -A searchable database of research findings  SARE’s Season Extension Topic Room  SARE Crop Rotations on Organic Farms, A Planning Manual, Charles Mohler and Sue Ellen Johnson, editors.  The organic agriculture community with eXtension. Publications, webinars, videos, trainings and support. An expanding, accessible source of reliable information.
    50. 50. Resources - Planning  The Twin Oaks Harvest Calendar by Starting Date and by Crop are available as pdfs on my website  AgSquared online planning software:  COG-Pro record-keeping software for Certified Organic Farms:  Free open-source database crop planning software  Mother Earth News interactive Vegetable Garden Planner, free for 30 days:  Target Harvest Date Calculator: (Excel spreadsheet) InteractiveTools.aspx  Growing Small Farms: click Farmer Resources, Farm Planning and Recordkeeping to download Joel Gruver’s spreadsheets. Debbie Roos keeps this site up to the minute.  Mark Cain under the CSA tab, you can download their Harvest Schedule. Notebook-based system.
    51. 51. Resources – Detailed Planning  Tables of likely crop yields  two charts, one of organic crops from The Owner-Built Homestead by Ken & Barbara Kern, one from California.  Determining Prices for CSA Share Boxes Iowa State U  New England Vegetable Management Guide Crop Budgets  Clif Slade’s 43560 Project: Virginia Association for Biological Farming newsletter  USDA annual vegetable consumption  John Jeavons How to Grow More Vegetables has charts: Pounds Consumed per Year by the Average Person in the US and Average US Yield in Pounds per 100 Square Feet.  The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the UC Santa Cruz Crop Plan for a Hundred-Member CSA, for a range of 36 crops in its Unit 4.5 CSA Crop Planning: or directly at  Jean-Paul Courtens , Roxbury Farm Information for Farmers tab, 100 Member CSA Plan, including a Weekly Share Plan, Greenhouse Schedule, and Field Planting and Seeding Schedule (with charts of possible crop yields). Courtens is also willing to send you their 1,100-member schedule.
    52. 52. Resources - slideshows  Many of my presentations are available at . Search for Pam Dawling. You’ll find  Crop Rotations  Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables  Fall Vegetable Production  Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale  Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests  Sustainable Farming Practices  And soon, this one, Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production  Mark Cain Planning for Your CSA: (search for Crop Planning)  Planning the Planting of Cover Crops and Cash Crops, Daniel Parson  Cover Crop Innovation by Joel B Gruver  Tom Peterson Farm Planning for a Full Market Season Appalachian Farmers Market Association and Appalachian Sustainable Development season.pdf
    53. 53. Resources - books  The Complete Know and Grow Vegetables, J K A Bleasdale, P J Salter et al.  Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers, Maynard and Hochmuth  The New Seed Starter’s Handbook, Nancy Bubel, Rodale Books  The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, Richard Wiswall, Chelsea Green  Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market, Vern Grubinger,  The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman, Chelsea Green  Extending the Season: Six Strategies for Improving Cash Flow Year-Round on the Market Farm a free e-book for online subscribers to Growing for Market magazine  Sharing the Harvest, Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En  Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, Richard Wiswall  Gardening When it Counts, Steve Solomon  Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth, Cindy Conner, New Society Publishers, (worksheet based). DVD/CD set Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan  Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers, Daniel Brisebois and Frédéric Thériault (Canadian Organic Growers Includes Excel spreadsheets or pdfs which can be downloaded blank.
    54. 54. Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production Closing the planning circle: produce crops when you want them and in the right quantities; sell them where and when you need to and support yourself with a rewarding livelihood while replenishing the soil. ©Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming