Some very helpful organic growers from around the area were on hand to talk about extended season, production schedules, yields, best crops, tracking software, and so much more!
Chatham University has 400 acres they manage north of town to teach sustainable ag, provide for the campus cafeterias, and sell to restaurants and Wigle Whiskey. They grow everything from Shitake mushrooms to ginger roots, heads of lettuce being their best seller. They use Goggle docs to log data, having 12 interns and needing a system that shares data. They typically order from Fedco. The recommendation is to use no more than three suppliers to make it easier for tracking sources for organic certification. They use rye, buckwheat or daikon radishes for cover crops. Daikon breaks up clay. Sometimes they actually harvest the cover crops too, but it depends on timing, because of the school schedule and labor availibilty.
Grow Pittsburgh's Braddock farm provides restaurants and a farm stand. They are members of a co-op, offering online sales. The co-op (Penn's Corner) is like a farmer's market but without having to sit around all day. The manager uses spreadsheets and maps with clearly labeled plots to communicate with workers. Each bed gets a number. This helps tracking crop rotation. His hardest challenge is to keep the farmstand stocked.
Since they started before I got there, I missed who the lady was with the 1/4 acre farm. She concentrates on selling seedlings. It could have been Garden Dreams. She is also a member of the growers co-op. She relies heavily on Johnny's Seeds. Johnny's website and catalog has downloadable spreadsheets too. Her best crop is zucchini. She covers it because it doesn't need pollinators, self pollinating. She is trying a paper covering for weed control this year. Other farmers didn't like covering with paper because it deteriorates too quickly. She said it may depend on the length of the growing cycle. Match the lifespan of the paper with a crop that matches. It's an experiment.
Most of the recommended reading I have already read. Chatham recommended listening to farmer-to-farmer podcasts while working. Not suitable for spouses who aren't into new tillage methods. I asked about seed saving. Most find it easier to buy each year for certification purposes. Several had one heirloom that isn't in catalogs anymore that they continue to save seed. We talked about equipment, over-priced stuff, what works, like a water wheel for seeding, and controlled temperature seed heaters to kill germs but not seeds. This helps improve germination rates. I think this is why Larry, the microgreens guy uses hydrogen peroxide. Several big outfits like Penn State bought $100,000 heaters which you can now buy at Target for $50. Weed pressure was the number one thing on their minds. Apparently there is a farm on a shale hill in NE PA that uses horses to farm. They have no weeds. They hoe daily. We talked about heavy black plastic weed barriers. They actually don't destroy good soil bacteria but they don't work in climates with heavy sun like in Colorado. Many farmers are trying them for the first time this year.
We talked about climate change. Our area received double the average rainfall last year. I may need to invest in some gauges. We talked about soil temperature (growing degree days) and germination so you know when your window of opportunity to plant is. Many farmers look to places north of us for data and information. Farms in Maine and Vermont have soil temperature data. Like me, most have little use for planning schedules coming out of the south or California. (Although UC Santa Cruz has generic data online for free). Chatham University uses Jean Claude Foutier's method. I picked up his book from the library. I was quite impressed but have no desire to have quite as much broccoli as he plants. Pam Dawling's book was recommended out of Virginia, Sustainable Market Farming. Anothr publication called "Weed the soil, not the crop" was recommended.
Timing and leeway were discussed. Crops that went to flowet too quickly like kale or dill can be sold in a bouquet. Edible flowers can also be sold in salad mixes, like mustard that's gone too quickly. When in doubt, taste the item. If too bitter, compost it. With carrots, one farmer felt they take much longer than the recommended days-to-maturity so he doubles it in his planning.
We wrapped up with a look at Ag Square, a software that will help track costs as well as a calendar and crop data, days to market, yield, etc. Another helpful tool is just your phone camera. Everything has a date and location stamp so you know when pests hit, when crops went to market, etc. Reviewing your Instagram account and marketing pictures helps you track dates. All-in-all, the workshop was very informative.