Sunday, January 25, 2009

Giant Jig Saw

We're putting the finishing touches on our field plans for 2009. And, even though I know better, I feel like I should be done any moment now when I hear the words "finishing touches".

However, in this case, the finishing touches are to figure out which dates everything will get done (the order is largely figured) and determine the final amounts of seed to order. It doesn't seem like it should take me so long to do. But, then I remember how many different plans I have to work with at one time.

We work with 11 different plots. Seven are in one rotation and four in the other. Each plot is approximately 10,000 square feet. And each plot has a different plan with nuances that give us a bit more to think about.

So, let's start with a relatively easy one. The tomato plot in the rotation. What's to think about?

First - you have to decide what varieties you want to grow for your tomatoes. This wasn't too terribly hard to figure out. You start with the cultivars from prior years that you want to keep. Make the final decision on the ones you discontinue and then look for a few new additions. HOWEVER, the cultivar selection has to be balanced so you have proper amounts of cherry types, snack/salad types, slicer, paste, large, small, etc. Oh, and we haven't mentioned that these are heirlooms, so we have lots of color types and taste varieties - so we'd better balance that out too. The good news? This process is fun - we love to check out different heirloom varieties - the hard part is limiting how many we do.

Next up on the list - how many of each of these cultivars will go in the plot? The balancing act begins. And, of course, there has to be some sort of back up plan if a cultivar fails to grow in our seed starting process. In this process, we determine which varieties are our workhorses and which are there as 'ornamentation.' They will all, hopefully, produce well. But, we know which ones have been most reliable for us -and we tend to grow more of those cultivars to provide the base for our tomato production. Workhorses for us have been (and will continue to be) Trophy, Wisconsin 55, Golden Sunray, Italian Heirloom, German Pink, Amish Paste and Speckled Roman.

Plot layout begins as step three (although it has been part of 1 and 2 - it's just hard to lay out steps when they are so inter-related). At this point, we determine placement of cultivars in relations to each other, spacing, trellising methods, mulching methods and companion crops.

Ah...companion crops. So, there is something we harvest from this field other than tomatoes. Basil, cilantro, summer savory and some other spices all go in this plot to help the tomatoes to grow. It just so happens that they also have value as a crop. So - guess what - we get to look at more cultivars and make more choices - hurrah!

Field maintenance - you know - cultivation, mulching, cover crops, compost application. That's got to be figured. In this case, we'll have a couple of undersewn cover crop trials going and a fall cover crop sewn where the shortest season tomatoes and spices reside.

Ok, got all that done. Now...what sort of supplies must be acquired and how much of each? Obviously, we must get seeds for tomatoes, companions and cover crops. The field plan helps us determine how many of each. But, wait - we also sell plants in the spring. Guess we better figure out how much of those we intend to carry too. Then there is the seed starting soil - how much of that do we need? And trays, etc etc. Wait a minute - do we have enough seed starting shelves built? hmmmm.

Now, when should we start these seeds? When do we get the cultivation done, and when are we going to need extra help? Rather than list all of our time considerations - we'll let you imagine them!

and remember... this one goes to eleven.

Trying to get a time line that works for all eleven plots is one giant jig saw.


  1. Despite my farming heritage, I always knew I would make a terrible farmer. This just confirms it for me.

  2. ah... but you could always just do a two crop rotation - corn and soybeans!

    That's EASY (to plan the rotation).


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