In Part 1, we described our general approach to crop planning. Each year, we gather to share our reflections on past successes and failures, and brainstorm a list of yays and nays for the upcoming growing season.
In Part 2, we dive deeper into the crop mapping process.
Part 2. Mapping it out
We think that growing food is for everyone. And, planning for a year’s worth of food growing at market-farm scale – especially where to plant what – is a major task! It’s like a giant puzzle, according to Farm Manager and Educator Jena Hood.
How does a person or team learn to do it? “By doing it,” Jena said. “By failing and recognizing there are some things outside of your control, there are some times when things will not go according to plan. As important as it is to have a plan, it’s equally as important to be flexible and have a willingness to adapt.”
The farmers, Jena, Spencer Cook, and Will Delacey, spent almost two full days devising and fine-tuning the 2022 crop plan. With crop planning – as with teaching, another major piece of the farmers’ work at EarthDance – each of the farmers brings important experience and knowledge to the collaborative process. Together, with their collective discerning appreciation – of the selected crops, our specific land and climate, soil health, water management, crop rotation, successive planting schedules, as well as pest, weed, and disease pressure, organic remediation strategies, and other regenerative practices (phew!)- the team devised a plan that will lead to bountiful harvests of food and plenty of joyful camaraderie in the field throughout the year…with some good luck, of course, which every farmer needs.
Important resources for crop planning
The crop list, last year’s crop plan spreadsheet, the EarthDance map, the white board, sticky notes, markers, trusted references, snacks, Tom the Cat (optional…sort of – he likes to be involved), and an understanding of how many plants it will take to produce the desired quantities of each crop. Also, the patience to plan, revise, and revise again as needed. Let’s look in detail at some of these below.
Crop List and 2021 Plan
The farmers generally start with the prior year’s crop plan, as many of the same crops are grown at EarthDance year-to-year. To determine general crop placement, the farmers consider agroecosystem and crop health, as well as timing and supply needs. This year, the addition of new crops created new challenges, but this team was up for it! (See future blog post for more information on how we choose which foods to grow.)
2017 EarthDance Organic Farm School map rendering by former Farm Manager Eric Stevens. Photo by Jess Garrett
EarthDance is a teaching farm that produces between 25,000 and 27,000 pounds of delicious organic produce each year for wholesale, for retail – at the Ferguson Farmer’s Market and the on-farm Pay What You Can Farm Stand, for volunteer shares, and for other program participants. All of this happens on about 2.5-3 acres of beautiful EarthDance land! The main production areas at EarthDance are called Main 1 – 4. There are two paddocks, or smaller production areas, in each Main field, for a total of eight Main production paddocks. There are also two high tunnels where crops are grown, Norm and Levi, with a third – Jamie (not pictured) – coming into production in 2022.
The farmers (and Tom the Cat) spent two January days in the farm office, puzzling together the 2022 crop map. Photo by Jess Garrett
Throughout the crop mapping process, labeled sticky notes get placed and moved around on this numbered, gridded map of the main growing areas. Sometimes there are multiple sticky notes in each bed row – indicating the successive plantings for that row over the course of the growing season. Succession planting may involve multiple crops being grown in the same beds in succession over the course of the same growing season, or the same crop being planted in different locations at intentional intervals to achieve a continual supply of that crop or extend the harvest season.
Each sticky note gets a crop name and either a transplant date (for greenhouse seedlings) or a seed date (for those plants that will be directly sown into bed rows.) To determine a transplant or seed date for each specific crop, the farmers start with a desired maturity/harvest date range. Then, they work backward on the calendar for each crop to determine the other estimated dates:
Seed date ⟵ expected germination date ⟵ transplant date (greenhouse) ⟵ desired harvest date range
Pro-tip: For greenhouse starts, the average days to maturity/harvest starts at the date of transplant, rather than germination.
The spreadsheet used each year contains formulas to calculate the number of seeds/plants needed for a particular succession of each crop. The farmers enter the bed feet and number of beds for the desired crop for each succession, and the formula calculates how many seeds they need to purchase. They then add a small percentage of seeds to account for poor germination and also, so that there are plants to share!
Assistant Grower Spencer Cook enters the 2022 crop plan into the spreadsheet.
When the crop planning process is complete, the team has mapped the full white board, and the information is entered into the spreadsheet. Both are used as references throughout the year. Jena updates the spreadsheet field layout, as plans sometimes change during the year (see previously mentioned willingness to adapt!) Keeping it updated is a good practice in general, not only so that the reference stays up-to-date for the farmers, but also because an accurately reflective crop map is required for organic certification.
Three cheers for the amazing EarthDance farmers and the completed (and flexible as necessary) 2022 crop plan!!! Stay tuned for Part 3!