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New micro-farm plot  RSS feed

 
Stephanie Ladd
Posts: 67
Location: Southeast Wisconsin, urban
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Hello all!!!

I have been a lurker for awhile on this FABULOUS forum and I now have some questions. My husband and I have the opportunity to "farm" a 1/10th of an acre through an Emerging Farmers program through UW-Extension. The idea is that the program helps connect micro farmers with local co-ops and restaurants to sell their crops. We are both novice gardeners and now we have this huge (to us) chunk of land to plant on. Some of the land has been farmed for years by Hmong farmers but the chunk that we have is new. It used to be just a field. The program already tilled the land for us but it is very very rough. Big chunks of earth and gravel and weeds. Since it is already June, I feel a bit rushed to get my things planted, but I have no idea where to start.

A few things about the land... We live in Milwaukee, WI and get on average 34.81 inches of precipitation a year. The soil is good, and since I am not yet an expert with soil types, I would describe it as clay loam. We do have access to water, but it's far away from our plot and we would have to have a pretty long hose if we want to use it, so I would like to plant things that don't need to be babied. Unfortunately, we can not have any animals on this land.

My questions are: 1) What kind of things can I get planted and going that will produce a cash crop but also be good pioneer plants to start with new land? 2) How do I flatten out and make that rough tilled land plantable? And how do I build up and keep that land fertile and healthy year after year without needing to bring in truckloads of compost or amendments.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. If I left any pertinent info out, please let me know!
 
Mike Feddersen
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Congratulations!
I remember Paul mentioning "Squarefoot Gardening" as a good book for a small area. http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1591865484/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1433373001&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SY200_QL40&keywords=square+foot+gardening&dpPl=1&dpID=61yie%2Bgt2ZL&ref=plSrch

On ways to build soil free, check out One Yard Revolution on Youtube.


As for crops, have you asked any of the area restaurants what they like, prefer, or can't get enough of? I would think lettuce varieties, Bok Choy, tomatoes both cherry and slicing varieties.
 
Mike Feddersen
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Stephanie Ladd
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Location: Southeast Wisconsin, urban
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Mike,

Thanks for the reply. And thank you for posting a link to the program.

We have the book "Square Foot Gardening" but haven't cracked it open yet. I will do so promptly. We bought so many permaculture books at once that I can't keep track.

As far as the restaurants, the program basically said to "follow your heart" and plant what you want to plant. I plan on doing a little of that too. I'm thinking just calling local restaurants myself and asking if they would be interested/what they would want. I just have this vision of growing 1/10 acre of all zucchinis and not knowing what to do with them and they all go bad, lol.

I've also been researching Curtis Stone a bit.

I will check out the YouTube video. Thanks again for the help

 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2569
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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First of all, if you got one of those plots right next to the trees on Howard Avenue, I'd advise that you run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. Trees are a huge drain on nutrients and water. The shade they produce doesn't smile kindly upon most types of crops. I pretty much leave my fields fallow where they are within 20 to 50 feet of a tree.

The County Line Road and Appleton Avenue sites looks great. I'd expect significant theft at Pete's Community Farm.

The plants don't care if the soil is rough or smooth. A few good rains will move the dirt from the highest places to the lowest. The plants don't care about gravel. They can grow around it. I usually haul away cobbles, but rarely anything smaller than that.

I'd recommend planting hot weather crops: Squash, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, corn, beans. It seems too late to be planting cool weather crops like peas, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, brassicas, radishes, broccoli, etc. Onions, carrots, and beets can go in any time as long as they get watered long enough to germinate...

My soil fertility strategy is to return all weeds and plant residues to the soil in which they grew. The only thing that leaves the farm is food.





 
Mike Feddersen
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Here is that Youtube link: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&ei=fZRvVYXlMo7LogTXxYDACA&url=https://m.youtube.com/user/OneYardRevolution%3F&ved=0CBwQFjAA&usg=AFQjCNE45YAhWgBnkdxHqt3xwM4sKHYi4g&sig2=o3HH_nbNK2L5VotnE1fFGw

As for growing all zucchini, maybe you can create "The Great Milwaukee Zucchini Cook-Off".
 
Stephanie Ladd
Posts: 67
Location: Southeast Wisconsin, urban
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Joseph, thank you for your input.

My plots are at the Timmerman Community Garden. It's right across from a small airport, within a 2 min driving distance from my home. There are no trees in sight due to the airport.

I agree with the hot weather crops. Would starting them from seed still be ok or should I buy lots of seedlings?

Thanks for the tip about fertility.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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The Timmerman Community Garden looks like a great spot. I might not appreciate the noise from the airport, but the ecosystem looks fantastic for a mini-farm. It sure grows weeds well!

The only hot weather crops that I routinely grow from transplants are tomatoes, peppers, and okra. Squash, melons, corn, and cucumbers seem to do better if direct planted as seeds. Beans grow quickly if direct seeded. I mostly prefer to transplant slow growing herbs that have tiny seeds. Because it's much easier to weed around a big plant than to find tiny seedlings lost among the weeds.

Also, transplants may need supplemental water for a couple weeks. Things that are direct seeded can pretty much take care of themselves.

Scallions, planted from small onion bulbs are one of the most popular and easiest to grow crops that I take to market. And space effective: They can be planted on a 2" grid.

Tomatoes are highly sought after which makes them a great market crop, but that makes them suck as a market crop, cause so many tomatoes are being grown.

I love growing cucumbers. They'd be a great market crop if people would actually buy them!!!
 
Stephanie Ladd
Posts: 67
Location: Southeast Wisconsin, urban
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OOO I got an apple

Anyways, Joseph I LOVE the scallions idea. Thanks! I have a few tomato seedlings from rareseeds.com that I am getting second hand so I will probably just throw them in to get started. I will have to figure out a good way to get them water. I will also probably mulch them with straw to retain moisture. I think we will definetly plant some squash and beans. How easily do potatoes grow? Would that makes sense in our situation?

The airport is a small airport with mostly small single engine planes. We might get one military plane a year and a jet a few times a year and that's about it. And as for the weeds, I fell in love with the spot as soon as I saw all the comfrey and motherwort growing, 2 of my favorite medicinal herbs
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2569
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Potatoes must grow well in Minnesota since the state's farmers produce more potatoes than the combined production of the lowest producing 32 states.

Potatoes are a tough crop for a market garden around here (close to Idaho), because the retail price is often around 25 cents per pound. I could grow specialty potatoes and get higher prices, but that becomes a niche market. The labor to dig potatoes is remarkable in my clayish soil. It would go easier in sandy soil, or in a nice loam.

I am spoiled this year in regards to water. I've finally accumulated enough hose to reach the water faucet 350 feet away. Normally I have watered transplants from a 5 gallon bucket. One cup of water per plant. My irrigation system is expected to have water in the next few days. Yay!!! No more dragging hoses.

 
William Bronson
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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Daikon Radish,for greens,seed pods and roots.
Mine are common fodder radishes the root is too hot for anything but pickling but they just keep giving,even self sowing.
Let them rot in the field to enrich the soil.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3351
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Potatoes are not very profitable per square foot of bed space. They are great if you have ten acres, not so much for a tenth.

 
Stephanie Ladd
Posts: 67
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Thanks for all the additional input guys. I wanted to give an update.

I found out that the land has been plowed, but not tilled. They are going to till it but it could take up to 2 weeks :/ So we are getting a very late start.

We've decided we are going to start with pinto and green beans, swiss chard, basil, and carrots. I hope we can get them in the ground soon enough.

I'm still struggling with a few things. They will till the land for you every year if you want. After reading the soil section of "gaia's garden" I am very adamant that I do not want to till. So my husband and I are thinking of all kinds of ways to maintain fertility with a no-till method. I know this is possible but since we are beginners and the land is larger than our backyard garden (and hopefully we can get even more land next year) we are stuggling to find a balance between building healthy soil and also not killing ourselves with labor. I want to encourage a healthy ecosystem in my garden but we also want to make some money doing this. I was listening to a few podcasts featuring Curtis Stone and he talks about putting your ideals in your back pocket for now and just getting started. I agree with that for the most part, but I also think I have some good ideals and if I can make money AND be regenerative to the land, that would be perfect. I am also very interested in bio dynamic methods because of my experience in Waldorf education.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Plant daikon, turnips, beets, parsnips, etc. as part of your fall crops and don't pull all of them.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Seems like it's way late to be finally getting around to tilling in a couple of weeks. I much prefer to plant into fall tilled soil.

I tilled a garden for a permaculturist. He was worried that if he tilled that he would destroy the soil... There wasn't any soil to start with. A few weeks ago he brought in a road grader and dug terraces into the side of a hill with about a 30 degree slope. You gotta start somewhere... He basically had terracotta bedrock to plant into. He had hauled in truckloads of manure, but that much organic matter disappears real quick in a garden of any size at all. So I tilled. I broke up the top few inches of "bedrock". That'll allow him to plant corn. Hopefully it will grow decently enough that he can chop/drop the corn. Perhaps even till it in, to at least get something organic into the ground. It'll eventually make fantastic soil. It'll hold onto moisture and nutrients like a dream.

He could plant Daikon radishes, but we have learned that they would grow up into the air instead of down into the ground....
 
Stephanie Ladd
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Joseph,

Thanks again for all your input.

Here's another update. They got around to tilling last week so everything was ready. The hubs and I planted on Saturday. We planted wide dense rows 30 inches wide by 40 feet long. We have about 20-25 rows in total. We are planning on doing 5 rows of each green bush beans, pinto beans, carrots, rainbow chard, and basil. We did 10 on Saturday and will do another 10 next weekend, and then finish up the following week. The gardens that have already been started are completely drowning in weeds. However, I am not sure how good these people are keeping up with their gardens. I am there at least once a day and I never see anyone. But yea, the weeds are bad. We bought a new hoe and plan on controlling the weeds mostly with a hoe. Any other ideas?

Also, we think we solved the water issue. We got 3 55 gallon rain barrels, filled them up with water, rolled them over to our plot (not an easy feat) and put them up on 2 pallets. It rained a TON this weekend so hopefully things stay moist for a few days. Looking at other gardens/plots in the area, things get dry pretty quick and some crops aren't doing too well. I was planning on mulching with straw, but my husband is very against it as he thinks the weeds will be hard to control that way. I see where he is coming from but there has to be an affordable way to retain moisture and keep out weeds. We are toying with the idea of trying white clover living mulch next year, but I have read a little bit about it and some people don't have good results.

Lastly, since we live in Milwaukee I am partial to Milorganite fertilizer. I am a little obsessive about minerals in the soil and I think humanure is such a good way to keep trace minerals in the soil. I know people have varying opinions about it. I know that there is probably trace amount of other yuckies in the Milorganite, but there is also plentiful minerals including trace ones and I really like that. And it's really impossible to stay away from every "toxin" anyway. Any thoughts?

And really lastly, although I am not totally sold on biodynamic methods, I am very intrigued by it's results so I used the Pfeiffer Biodynamic Field and Garden Spray before I planted.
 
Cristo Balete
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Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Stephanie, thick mulch stops emerging weeds, retains moisture and improves the soil. If you have a lawn mower and can mow your weeds into small bits, pile them at least 6" thick, they will shrink down and work well. That's a Permaculture method. Maintain that thickness throughout the growing season. You will get some weeds on the edges of the mulch, but as long as you get them when they are small, they will be easy to hoe out, pilling them on top of the mulch.

What about growing garlic? It is a good companion plant, goes in in Oct., overwinters. It needs a few weeks of drying after harvesting, but it's a popular crop that stores well for a few months.
 
Stephanie Ladd
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Cristo,

Thanks for the reply. Regarding mulch, I want soooo badly to use mulch. But here are my issues. Some of my seeds aren't up. If I mulch now, won't it impede germination? Also, what kind of mulch would you suggest? We've used straw in the past, but if we used it on our plot, I would need 100+ bales and that would cost me around $900. Woodchips might be doable, I think I can get them for free from my city. But it would still be like 20 truckloads (I don't have a truck). What else could I use?
 
Cristo Balete
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Thanks for the reply. Regarding mulch, I want soooo badly to use mulch. But here are my issues. Some of my seeds aren't up. If I mulch now, won't it impede germination? Also, what kind of mulch would you suggest? We've used straw in the past, but if we used it on our plot,


Stephanie, I know you got a late start, so don't get discouraged about this. Soil preparation takes time, so remember that everything you do this year will help you next year. I have almost stopped thinking about crops, and I think mainly about soil amendment. I maintain the mulch at 6" all spring/summer/fall. If the soil is prepared, you can put just about anything in it.

I have had the best results with mowed weeds or grass that comes out of the mower basket. Small particles start to get moldy quickly, even dry, brown ones. I've had the piles get hot overnight. That's what the plant roots want.

This is where you want to "grow your own." I mow the paths and pile that up on the rows. Offer to mow other people's paths where you are. Ask neighbors to give you bags of what they mow, or piles that you bag up. Collect bags of dead leaves whenever you find them, in the fall on city streets, by the side of the road. You can't know for sure that what you get from the city or neighbors doesn't have spray on it, but when the mulch composts, it breaks down. Drive around with big garbage bags, a shovel and a broom.

If you do use straw or rotted straw, run over it with a mower first to make the particles small.

Nobody said this endeavor was not time consuming or glamorous

Wood chips absorb water and nitrogen until they break down, so your annual plants won't benefit from fresh bark chips as much as they would from organic mulch or year-old+ bark chips.

I plant right in the mulch. I pull the mulch aside a little, put a handful of compost or potting soil, tuck the seed into that, water it, put a very fine layer of cut weeds over that. Watch them every day if it's not raining.

If you have room at your house, it might be a little less nerve wracking to plant seeds in flats (free from a plant nursery) and transplant them into the mulch. Then the transplants will be big enough to avoid chewing bugs, and you can see right at home whether the seeds are good or not. I think we all end up with iffy seeds, and if you are going to sell crops you can't afford to miss a week because your seeds didn't germinate. Birds and mice will happily kick through your seeds out in that community garden, and eat them, or expose them to the sun.

This is a permaculture method, so check out YouTube:

https://youtu.be/a1Wz_dnFO5I (don't worry about the language, you will get it from watching the pictures)

https://youtu.be/qVTcotHSj2U (Emilia Hazelip, planting in deep mulch)

https://youtu.be/XWHSzGDItBA (sheet mulching)


also search lasagna gardening using layers of soil amendments.


And if you really want to do this using Permaculture, you will also need all the other support plants mixed in, beneficial flowers, herbs and nitrogen fixers. You can dig down and fill back in (Hugelkulture), or you can build up.

You're not just growing for fun anymore when you do cash crops. You are growing with a weekly deadline and with the need to keep the customers happy. They spread the word, and are your best source of advertising in a tough world where lots of people are selling vegetables. It all looks great spread out on the table to sell. But the path getting to that point is a serious amount of work.




 
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