Winter Working--How We Figure Out What We Grow!

Despite our lack of blogging, we have been busy on the farm--just either not working on very photogenic stuff or working in non-camera friendly conditions, though Matt's been rocking the chainsaw, cutting wood for next winter!  (We are looking for a wood/oil furnace for our greenhouse if anyone out there knows of one floating around!) Since one of our most common questions is, "what DO you do in the winter?" we thought we'd itemize a bit of what most of our winter work entails--crop planning!  The basic theory of crop planning is to do anything that involves thinking and decision making in the quiet winter time and write it all down so that in the hectic, crazy, sometimes 20 hour days of spring, minimal thinking is involved (and we don't forget to plant anything)!

We started by deciding:  1) what markets we want to go to (the Cazenovia summer market, and a number of  winter markets); 2) to expand our CSA a bit and add a second delivery loop out to Utica/Rome; and 3) to add a bunch of new crops (potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and more).

Once we figured out what and where we are selling, we then calculate out how much of each crop we need to grow.  Essentially, we sketch out exactly what crops we will have to harvest each week for every CSA member and our market (barring weird weather, disease, or pests) from May through December.  And then we do the math to figure out how much we need of each supply to grow that crop (mulch, trellis posts, twine, foliar sprays, trays, harvest boxes, irrigation line, and on and on).  We then go back and forth a bit to figure out what combination of crops will best please our members and market, while being the most efficient use of space, time, and resources.

This process generally takes us about a month, and by the time we are done, we are usually tired of algebra, geometry, and computers!  However, we also have a set of documents that tells us what we are planting, when and where we are planting it, and a ton of other details.  This comes in handy when the season's rush arrives, and lets us be more efficient with our limited time and money!

The final step in planning is assembling all our orders.  This is really satisfying and fun (who doesn't love seed catalogs?) but also a bit scary, since we end up purchasing 90% of our farm's expenses in a 3 week period in February (gulp!), before we even start growing any crops!  This is where the CSA model really can really help farmers, both by making planning easier since you know who you are growing for, and make juggling pre-season expenses less challenging thanks to early signups and deposits.  (On that note, a big thanks to all our great members!)

Patience, and the last big push...




... inside before the season begins.  I keep saying that we will start our outside work (and we certainly will) with all its exciting pictures and stories any day now.  Yet Matt and I find ourselves busy wrapping up the last inside loose ends despite the warm spring weather.

(Arlo is outside, supposedly chasing our evil nemeses [geese] out of the pond... however, they quickly learned that the water is too cold for the dog and are taunting him from the middle.  Clearly he needs to step up his game a few notches!)

We are also focused now on practicing patience.  I really, really want to start seeding things that I probably shouldn't.  It's just so nice and the soil (even here at 1400 feet) is actually pretty warm.  But... we are almost guaranteed to get cold again, so we are trying to be patient... for at least one more week!  It's just hard not to get antsy with days like today!  This used to be a big problem of mine, especially with starting seeds.  The year that cured me was in NH when I started all my tender seeds and threw in snap peas a couple weeks early since it seemed to be warming up faster than usual.  Of course it ended up getting VERY cold in late May, and I couldn't get my tender summer crops in until 2 weeks later then normal (and I had started them 2 weeks earlier than normal).  The plants survived and didn't get too root bound, but I had to spend a lot of money and time re-potting them.  Twice.  The pea flowers, however, did not make it through the frost, and we lost a lot in yields.


"What DO farmers do in the winter?" is a question we hear a lot.  In sort, recover, regroup, re-plan, and get prepared.  Winter is a great chance to reassess how the season went, what we liked or didn't like, and where we want to go from there.  It's also a time to put together your vision and goals for the farm in the next season, and assemble all the things you need to make that happen.

This winter (and this early spring) were certainly busy for us.  In the past week, I have been working on finishing the orders for most of our spring supplies and seeds.  Typically we would do this last month, but we didn't want to buy anything new knowing we'd just have to move it again!

Where do we order our seeds and growing supplies from?  Our favorite places for seeds include:

Johnnys Selected Seeds (out of Maine)

High Mowing Seeds (out of Vermont)

Wild Garden Seeds (West Coast)

We try to work with companies and seed houses that breed (or at least test) seeds for our northern climates.  We also like places that offer a mix of hybrids and open-pollinated/heirloom seeds, to give us a good balance between new and old crops.

For growing supplies, we use Johnnys again (link above), as well as:

Nolt's Produce Supplies (no website, but out of PA)

Fedco Seeds

And for when random parts are breaking, FarmTek

This year we are trying out some NY vendors and hope to find some local places!

Matt, meanwhile, is focusing his energy on finding a tractor.  We have a great little cultivating tractor, but now need something with a bit more power to work the roto-tiller.  Unfortunately, our scale seems to put us in the black hole of tractor sizes.  There are tons of sub-35 hp and over-90 hp machines out there, but not a lot in the middle range (which is of course what we are looking for).  He hopes to decide on something by the end of the week!

Look for notes and seed starting pics tomorrow!

Back from NOFA and Crop Planning!




Just got back from NOFA conference, and I am definitely a bit farmed out!  Most of the time farming I am by myself or with one or two other people, so it is pretty amazing (but also a wee bit exhausting) to be in such a great crowd of farmers and supporters of farming!

I am going to attempt to (use my admittedly limited computer tech skills and) link to my presentation power point, in case anyone wants to check out the notes from my crop planning workshop.  If the link is dead when you hit it, please CONTACT ME and I will share a Google Doc file to the link with you.

NOFA NY 2012 Workshop Powerpoint: How to Get the Vegetables You Want, When You Want Them Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Handout of Resources from the Workshop: (these include tons of places you can find sample spreadsheets or help estimating the conditions/yields/seed needs for your operation) How to Get the Vegetables You Want, When You Want Them

Off to NOFA-NY winter conference!




Matt and I are packing up and getting ready to head out to the 2012 Northeast Organic Farming Association-NY winter conference.  We love this conference (if it's possible to love a conference) for the awesome people we have met there, the tons of things we have learned, and the overall enjoyment of being in a place with a lot of other farmers.

The first year we moved to NY (in 2008), it really amazed us to be at an organic farming conference with so many people participating.  (and so many vendors!)  Even after years of going to different workshops and trade shows, that was really the first time we were at an event that focused on sustainability, yet had real large tractors and equipment for sale.  (I suspect that Matt just really wanted to move to NY from NH so we could work fields large enough that he could justify getting a big tractor.)

This year is a little scary (but mostly exciting) for us since it's the first time we will be out representing Hartwood Farm in public, for real.  Email us (on our contact us page) if you are there and want to meet us and talk about the farm!  Also, come check out my workshop--How to Get the Vegetables You Want, When You Want Them (Sat at 2:30) which is all about crop planning and setting up spreadsheets (exciting, I know...).

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We aren't posting too much yet (since we are pretty sure that there is not much exciting in the reams of excel cropping spreadsheets that are filling this week), but as we get on the ground (Feb 1st) and start building/planting stuff, we will have more exciting things to report!