I'm working on planning for my first market garden (50-60 csa shares, 18 weeks) but getting yield data is proving a problem. (if i plant 100 row feet of beets, how many pounds will I harvest? How many pounds of zucchini does one plant actually produce in a week? what about a tomato plant?
What resources do you use? What data have you collected?
I'm gardening in the Sudbury Ontario area so any info from around here would be best but really any info from anywhere would be great.
Jean Martin fortier and Eliot Coleman talk about it in their books, as does the SPIN materials--but it really is a hyper local thing. Your soil, seed, weather, method all matter and even farmers that know what they are doing and have tens of years of historical data still can have a +/- 50% of expected yield.
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"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
I wonder if you should be asking different questions... My basic strategy for what went into baskets was that if I had 50 members then each member got 1/50th of the harvest. So perhaps the question you should be asking is how many plants would I need to feed one family, and then multiply that by the number of members you are feeding... In my experience with my climate and habits as a farmer an acre (0.4 hectares) of land can support about 25 CSA shares.
I was an early adopter of the CSA model, but I abandoned it because I hated being in debt to the buyers, and I hated having crop failures, and I didn't like people wasting the gorgeous food that I grew for them, and I hated people being unreliable and not picking up their boxes. For emphasis, I hated the crop failures. Two years in a row all of the brassica family crops failed. That really hurt my ego and damaged my sense of self-worth as a farmer. No big deal at the farmer's market, I just say "I don't have brassicas today", but in the CSA it really sucked.
In my CSA, having a variety of crops available every week was more important than how many pounds of food I provided. So I used methods and varieties that would allow me to offer extended seasons on each crop. So I'd plant small early saladette tomatoes, just to get tomatoes into the baskets, and then stop picking those when the larger tomatoes ripened. Planning the crops so that they can ripen over extended periods was vital to me. Take carrots for example: A well grown carrot at the end of the season in September weighs up to two pounds, but ten weeks earlier it might take 20 carrots to make a pound. My strategy with crops like carrots that don't perish from week-to-week, but just get a little bigger, was to say things like: "There are 10 weeks left in the season, and I have 10 rows of carrots, so I can pick one row per week until the end of the season." Crops that fall into this category are things like beets, onions, and greens. With carrots, if I want to provide 8 carrots per week, for 18 weeks, for 50 members, then I need to grow 7200 plants. Spaced at one inch per plant that's 600 row-feet of carrots. If the lettuce season is 4 weeks long, and I want to include one head of lettuce in the baskets per week, then I'd want to plant 4 X 50 heads of lettuce. Perhaps the first two weeks since the heads are smaller I'd want to include 2 heads of lettuce per week, so my total planting would be 6 X 50 = 300 heads of lettuce.
Other crops are perishable on the vine: They are things like radishes, broccoli, green beans, shelling peas, sweet corn, and berries. In a week a zucchini can go from a flower to a 8 pound fruit. But people don't want 8 pound fruits, they want 8 ounce fruits. So to get small zucchini into the baskets you need to pick several times per week, but then you gotta decide if you are having multiple pickup days, or if you are going to refrigerate the produce for a once a week pickup, or sell the mid-week produce via other means. With things like summer squash, I used to plant 3 weeks earlier than anyone would ever plant summer squash around here, and then at the normal summer squash planting time, and then about 3 weeks and 6 weeks later. That gave me plants at all different stages of maturity and perhaps some would still be producing on any particular week. Perhaps the first planting gets frozen. No big deal. One of the other plantings will probably succeed. One zucchini plant will feed a family, so perhaps you would want to plant 50 early zucchini plants and 50 late zucchini plants to extend the harvest.
If well spaced, in a field with sufficient nutrients and water, corn produces 2 cobs per plant, so 300 corn plants would provide about a dozen ears of corn to each family. If you want them to have 4 weeks worth of corn, then plant successive crops, of about 300 seeds of the same variety, when the previous crop is about 3" tall. Or plant crops on the same day which have different days to maturity. Basing things on days-to-maturity is sometimes iffy because that data tends to be unreliable.
Then there are the crops that are a one time harvest all at once: In my garden they are things like grains, dry beans, soup peas, sunroots, melons, flour corn, and winter squash. Winter squash in my garden produce about 2 fruits per vine. So if I want my members to have two winter squash I would plant 50 seeds. My strain of sunroots produce about 13 pounds of tubers per plant, but that's way too much for one family, so perhaps 1/3 of a sunroot per family would be about right. Around 17 plants. Dry beans in my garden produce anywhere from 40 to 140 ml per foot of row depending on variety. If 90 ml per foot is the average, then I'd need to grow 11 row-feet to provide one liter of dry beans to one member. So 550 row feet would take care of 50 members.
I guess that's a long winded way of saying perhaps it isn't pounds of produce that is the important number to be looking at, but rather numbers of plants. In a food forest setting, the fruit and nut bearing trees get harvested and the produce is divided equally among the shareholders. It might be a single apple per shareholder one year, and a bushel the next.
Did I mention enough times that crop failures really really suck in a CSA? I know it's part of the contract, but that doesn't take away the hurt.
@ Dale - yes they have, thankfully, improved alot since INCO days
@ Joseph - I appreciate a long winded response! and you are right, number of plants is very important, I will try to think of it in those terms aswell!
a second question - what about first (and last) planting dates? how would I calculate them for myself? anyone have an opinion?(i will of course also ask local farmers/gardeners)
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
Tom Kozak wrote:a second question - what about first (and last) planting dates? how would I calculate them for myself? anyone have an opinion?(i will of course also ask local farmers/gardeners)
I have an opinion, and I wanted to share it in my previous post, but self-censored. Since you asked directly this time I'll go ahead and offer it. I think that you don't have enough experience with growing in Sudbury to be able to successfully fulfill your end of the contract as a CSA market farmer: Especially not to 60 shareholders. As an alternative, I suggest growing for a year, and keeping meticulous notes, and sell the produce at a farmer's market, or to the grocery stores, or at a road-side stand. Then after you have proven that you can successfully choose varieties, and plant them at the right time, and keep them weeded, and get them harvested at the proper times, and have demonstrated that you have the ability to supply the necessary variety and quantity, then offer a CSA the second year. I wouldn't want to buy a CSA share from a farmer that doesn't know when to plant his crops, or that has to look up yields from a web site.
I've watched so many CSAs crash and burn that I feel inclined to offer a word of caution to both farmers and eaters. The marketing hype sounds magical, but pulling it off successfully is rare.
Thanks Joseph, both for the insights and for the self-censoring!
Your right, I don't have the experience. I also don't have the land, a vehicle, much needed equipment or many community contacts! There wont be a market garden this year, hopefully a garden, just not a market one. However, I just finished a crop planning course and rather than do nothing and forget everything they taught me decided to go ahead and make a mock crop plan to work through the kinks myself. They suggested 10-30 shares per beginning farmer would be reasonable, since there are two of us on this project, and it's always easier(and more fun) to plan big and downsize later than go the other way, I decided 50-60 was reasonable.v Assuming 10 or so shares are actually produce being grown for the market/farm stand, and another 5-10 are produce being grown for our own use.
What do you think? Are these reasonable assumptions? Are those reasonable numbers? What have I not thought of (an invitation to stop self-censoring).
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
Tom: Excellent! Great way to stay connected with your schooling.
20 CSA shares maxed out my abilities, land, and tools: 3/4 acres, a helper on CSA day, and someone that weeded one day per week. With another full-time farmer, and two more part time helpers, and double the land I could have handled a second (20) basket day, or a farmer's market. I have to irrigate, and I commute to the farm. Both of those eat up resources and time that other farmers could devote to growing.
The thing that has consistently caused me the most trouble is equipment failure... The tractor breaks the day before the most time-critical plantings of the year. The rototiller motor dies while the weeds are growing most vigorously. The truck gets a flat an hour before market. The irrigation system is unavailable or a riser breaks off. My leg wimped out on me... Staff get a boyfriend and run off into the sunset... I mention this because I would be much more effective as a farmer if I had duplicates of all of these things, so that if the tractor breaks I could just go get on the other tractor, and worry about getting the broken tractor out of the field during the week, instead of having the planting schedule severely disrupted. No big deal if one staff member disappears if there are others already doing the same job. Part of the reason I hated the CSA model so much is that I could never take a sick day or vacation. With a farm stand or at the farmer's market if I am too sick or tired to harvest I don't have to. If it is raining cats and dogs for the entire harvest day I can cut back on what I take to the farmer's market. A CSA requires that I work all day in the cold wet rain. A partner in a CSA would be nice, better yet two or three farms cooperating together. Many of the CSAs that I have watched fail have done so because the partners can't work together effectively, so they break up and the CSA dies.
The CSA model supposedly helps the farmer first thing in the spring by providing cash to buy seeds. I totally bypass the necessity of buying seed by growing my own. My seed bill for the past several growing seasons has been exactly zero!!! I am not expecting to spend anything on seeds this year either. My crops thrive, both because the seeds become locally-adapted to my weather and habits, and because they are fresh well-grown seeds full of vigor.
I did some deliveries this summer but there was no contract. The arrangement is simple. I put $20.00 worth of stuff in the box. I deliver the boxes to as many people as I have produce for. If anyone is unhappy with the quantity or quality, they can tell me to stop bringing the stuff. That didn't happen.
Everyone was aware that they would receive whatever was in season. On days when I had very little garden produce to offer, I would go out and wild harvest fruit. Once I got to a point where the garden didn't produce enough, I lowered the price.
Everyone was happy with this arrangement and all want to continue next year. A big part of that is customer training and customer location. I won't deal with anyone who lives in the wrong spot or with anyone who gives me any trouble in any way. No complaints allowed. This seems to work for me in other business ventures and I'm continuing with the same methods.
I'm a very small grower. Having weekly commitments would not work with my other jobs. The food is a sideline.
People are lining up to be my customers. I could easily double my delivery customers in a day, if I had enough produce.