Where We Are Now

The work we do here is very hard and tedious and can often feel overwhelming. Staying focused is sometimes difficult. It is important for us, Roy and me, to consider the progress that’s been made and to remind ourselves often why we do it. In this post I will try to positively reflect the progress we’ve made since the field was first cleared in July 2010. It may be lengthy.

We are starting this season with six strawberry beds, one perennial bed, four apple trees, one crabapple tree, three maple trees, and eleven beds for raising vegetable crops. All are double dug raised beds except the maple tree beds and the perennial bed. In total, not including the tree beds or perennial bed, we have 2135 square feet of crop planting area. We have also dug a 50′ berm across the north end of the field and a 150’x3′ drainage ditch that runs north-to-south through the middle of the field. All of the digging was done by hand and could not have happened if it wasn’t for the chainsawing and dragging and chopping and burning and shoveling and hauling and leveling that took place beforehand. Everything except the initial clearing and chainsawing was done by hand. Now we occasionally pull out the chainsaw and we mow, all other work is by hand.

We have become a lot more familiar with crop varieties. I believe we’ve chosen ones that will grow well in our area, be the most disease resistant and the most productive. We’ve learned the purpose of green manures and cover crops and have chosen varieties that are growing very well (before, we had not even heard the terms). We have a bed of natural plant food, comfrey, that will be ready for its first harvest this spring. Weeds within all the planting beds are manageable. We’ve seen a lot of earthworms in the compost piles and planting beds where last year there were none.

We’ve designated an area of our field specifically for composting and we currently have four piles cooking. One is ready for sifting now and the others aren’t far behind. It turns out that composting is almost a full-time job in itself. We have a veggie washing area and the table is just about finished. We just bought a new mower that won’t have to be jump-started. We have an old garden shed that has a new floor and new roof, a permanent drive in and out of the field and a new culvert, most of the burning and chainsawing is just about finished, and the southern magnolia that was planted at the norther-most corner is doing great. We finally have a field and garden schematic that shows our plans for future growth and expansion (it definitely helps to know what goes where) and we have a bridge built across the drainage ditch that is just about finished.

We’ve learned a little about soil and know more about N-P-K, micro-nutrients and pH value. We have our soil amendments figured out and know how much and when to add them and we have a record for keeping up with each edition. We’ve set up a simple market garden record keeping system that includes an income and expense record, a planting schedule, a crop records sheet, supplier information, mileage record, and unit size & pricing record. We figure everything (soil amendments, seeds or plants to purchase, etc) on a 25 square foot calculation. The whole record keeping system is simple but remembering to use it may prove to be the challenge. We expect it will be ‘tweaked’ a little from year to year or even season to season.

We’ve learned more about marketing and know how we want to progress over the next few years. We finally decided against business cards and instead went with farm flyers. They are simple and direct and will be printed before the farm market opens in April. The only thing we’re not certain about here is whether to seek a single location as a local truck farmer in our city or travel 12 miles north to set up in a well established farm market. Working both locations would be great but we’re not positive we can support two farm stands just yet. Since this will be our first year to sell, we’re sort of leaning toward the established market.

Standing out alone in our first year while we’re still learning our crops and the whole ‘market’ thing is a little scary. At the established market we’ll be the new guy. We should have time to learn the work involved in getting ready for market (harvesting, washing, packing, hauling, setting up, etc), we can talk more to other farmers and get helpful feedback, we can learn what sells and what doesn’t, we can pass out flyers, we can learn more about how much to grow to get us through the season, we can get involved with community outreach agencies, and we can begin to build a positive reputation within our county. I suppose we could do all this locally, except for other farmers, but blending in instead of sticking out sound better for the first year to me.

I’ve posted about everything I could think of right now. Wow, we really have come a long way. There is still so much more to do and learn but this post isn’t about that. I think I’ll write a new page entitled “To Do in 2012.”

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13 thoughts on “Where We Are Now

  1. Wow, you guys have done so much in the last few years! It’s great to read about where you started and where you are now. It sounds like you’re good and ready for your first season of selling. I’d probably pick the established market as a starting point too. Good luck this year! I look forward to reading more.

  2. Thanks for posting this! I enjoyed reading about the details of your setup, and the pictures really bring it to life. By the way, if you are inclined to write a blog entry about the details of your simple record keeping system, I would find that very helpful.

    I’m certain you’ll have a successful year. Best of luck to you both!

  3. Brett,

    Thanks for your encouraging words. Our record keeping system is still in the works. Information most important to us now is a Crop Scheduling form that shows when to start seed, when to plant outdoors, successive planting intervals, how many plantings, and when to expect first harvest. We are working on a Crop Records sheet that shows how much seed or how many plants to purchase per 25 square feet, actual planting date, germination date, germination rate, first harvest date, and amount of harvest based on unit measures (one unit = one selling unit). We keep up with planting groups for each area for spring, summer, fall, and winter cover. We have a written garden schematic and a 4-year rotation plan. Our income & expense records is simply filing receipts. These records will be tweaked this year then made final for 2013’s season. This is a very simple, quick way of knowing what to get, how much to get, where it goes, and when to expect it to be ready for market. We have a record sheet that keeps up with soil amendments per bed, too. What we do need, and haven’t even began to touch, is an easy way to determine profit and/or loss per crop.

  4. Hi Kelly. Thanks so much for your detailed response. It was extremely helpful. I hope you don’t mind if I ask one more follow-up question.

    Have you populated the data in your Crop Scheduling Form (and other forms) based on your experience, or do you obtain the data from some other source? I’m guessing it’s based on your experience.

    To generalize the question: Is the value in your record keeping system primarily organizational and historical (thus allowing you to learn and infer future improvements in an organized and systemic way from your past experience)? Or is the system primarily a way to integrate third-party data (e.g., seed start date, outdoor plant date, etc…) into a plan for the season?

    I hope the question makes sense. Thanks again!

  5. Starting a larger scale farm/garden can almost seem like a task that you really wish you hadn’t started. But, it it worth the time and effort. Happy Gardening

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