Friday, January 27, 2012

Crop Plans for 2012 and a New First Mate!

It's still winter, right?  Where I'm from it snows and is cold during winter, so this soggy 40 degree weather has been really throwing me off.  Though as a cyclist I have to admit that this unexpectedly warm January has aided in the ease of transport for me and my family.  So I guess I can't complain too loudly, but this constant nagging feeling, "this isn't right", won't go away.

Despite (or maybe because of) the warm weather we've been really gearing up (pun intended) for the 2012 growing season!  There has been a whole grocery list of items to attend to and I'd say we're really shaping up and are excited about easing back into things.

Once the holiday craziness had past, I got to work on our crop plan.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I've decided to prioritize diversity over quantity at market, and start up a neighborhood farm stand.  With this in mind and the results of our neighborhood (what do you want to eat?) survey in hand I embarked on the adventure that is crop planning.  I'm not sure if you've ever done much crop planning but it can basically be as complicated or simple as you want.  We definitely try to incorporate as much crop rotation (planting crops based on a rotation of crop families and trying to avoid planting the same family in the same location each year) into our plan as possible.  Rotating your crops really helps cut down disease and insect pressure, though I have to admit that when you're only growing on 1/5th of an acre I find it hard to believe that the pests can't skip over a couple beds to where their favorite crops are now planted.  Some insects are of course less mobile then others and certainly soil diseases are cut down dramatically.  but hey, you do what you can.

We will be growing 41 different varieties of annual crops, in addition to planting everbearing raspberries, 2 varieties of strawberries, black berries and 2 varieties of asparagus (yeah perennials!!!).  wow, i might be in over my head :)  so we'll see how things go.  Its been a little while since I grew this many different crops and varieties so I have to admit I'm a little nervous.  We're making the leap into perennial crops because we FINALLY own 1 of our farm lots and will be tilling it up this year.  Now if  the city could just get its act together we might own all 3 by the 2013 season (who knows, miracles do happen). We will also be growing all the transplants and I have given the grow room a bit of a makeover (cleared out all our personal storage items, put down a new floor covering, and added shelves and more lights...its really going to glow in there!) and now have space for transplant production.

As a matter of fact, I did the very first sunflower shoot planting for the year yesterday and we are oh so excited to return to Eastern Market next Saturday, February 4th.  We'll be in a center stall in Shed 3, so please come check us out!  We'll of course have sunflower shoots and possibly garlic and dried tomatoes!

Last but certainly not least, I'm happy to announce that we have a new member of the Rising Pheasant Farms team.  Darryl Howard, a graduate of the Earthworks Agricultural Training (EAT) Program and avid composter, will be coming on board as our Assistant Farm Manager.  Darryl has been involved at Earthworks since Brother Rick ran the show, but most recently spent the past two years participating in the EAT program as a candidate and a mentor.  He has also played an active role in the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Community Bike Shop and, I'm told, is a great bike mechanic. Darryl will be my "first mate" if you will, for all sunflower shoot and field production, as well as at the market.  We are very excited to have his skill, incite, and warm smile!  Welcome Darryl!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter Break & 2012 Plans! (Written Nov 2011)

Despite the unusually warm weather (its going to be 69 F today!) the 2011 season is coming to a close. we have just 3 more Saturdays at Eastern Market before a much anticipated (and deserved, i think) break.

We finished clearing the Frederick lots today and are awaiting our leaves.  If you have leaves or an any connections to landscapers with leave please contact us!  We finished up the season with leeks and scallions in addition to our sunshoots but now the sunshoots are the lone product on our table.  It does make for a much less chaotic Saturday morning but it is always a little sad (but also quite satisfying) to pull out the remaining plants, put away the field tools and say goodbye for the winter.  We do actually have spinach and lettuce still in the field but i'm doubtful they will make it to market.  We definitely got out lettuce in late.  Mostly due to a (or many) persistent mouse who continually removed the tops off my lettuce transplants and cause me to replant them twice.  the spinach is producing but i still have very inconsistent results with the 6-row seeder and there just really isn't enough to take.  so perhaps i'll just see if folks in the neighborhood would be interested when its ready.

though the 2011 season isn't quite finished, i'm already onto plans for 2012.  i've had a continual debate about my crop plan strategy since we started in 2009.  i've found it very frustrating to spend all my time growing vegetables and then have to go to market and buy vegetable.  i'd start with good intentions to have a separate family bed but with everything going on, it would soon become a pretty low priority and turn to a weedy mess.  in addition to this situation weighting on my mind, we learned a LOT about selling at market this year in regards to what sells and what doesn't and how much we can realistically move at market.  we discovered that for some items, mainly the sunshoots, we can sell a LOT more then we thought (or ever did at the Grown in Detroit table), but for most of the field items we really don't sell that much and that it would be preferable to have a diversity of crops as apposed to a large quantity of a few crops.

so for 2012 we are doing a 180 on the crop plan.  since i realized that the field crops are a small proportion of our total income (compared to the sunshoots) i feel less pressure to plant only crops that return the highest price per square ft (salad greens are an example of a very high price per square ft as compared to winter squash which takes up a lot of space and doesn't yield a very high price at market).  Next season our prioritize will be the following:

1. Grow enough food for our family to eat and preserve
2. Grow a diversity of crops to sell at Eastern Market from February through November
3. Grow a diversity of crops to sell at a weekly produce stand at our house, thus making it easier for our neighbors to pick up fresh produce

The first priority will require some research into urban homesteading models and increasing our preservation efforts.  We should be able to use the farmhouse for food storage next winter (i'm still hoping we might be LIVING in the farmhouse next winter but who knows), which will relieve my current tiny kitchen.

The second priority should be simple enough.  We'll already be growing a diversity of crops for our family and we'll just grow a large quantity of each item to take to market.  Hopefully we will therefore a more interesting and attractive table with great diversity throughout the growing season.

The third priority is not new in theory but one that I've been rolling around in my head for years now.  I've always wanted to do a neighborhood-based CSA (community supported agriculture) model here on the Eastside but I feel a small farm stand will be a good starting point.  It will hopefully serve as a way to reach out and meet neighbors and build relationships (and sell some produce).  Perhaps in the next couple years we can build enough support (and skill) to try out a CSA, but for now I think the farm stand will do.

We've got a lot of work to do, so I better rest up now.

See you in February!