Crop planning is a critical and often overlooked part of farming. A crop plan, developed before the season starts, helps growers calculate how much of each crop to plant in the greenhouse each week, when they will be transplanted in the field, timing and quantity of harvest on a weekly basis through the growing season (to plan for CSA deliveries and farmers markets for example) and succession planting or cover cropping to make maximum use of limited acreage. These plans can be complex, and as every grower knows, often are tweaked and revised as the season progresses and from season to season as the farm develops. Having a plan at the outset, however, can significantly reduce the stress and chaos of a production season, and can contribute to the profitability and productivity of the market farm. The recommended books for market gardeners cover this in detail, and the following resources are good starting places for examples and guidance on creating a crop plan.
Crop Planning for Continuous Harvest
For direct-market growers, it is important to be able to produce a diversity of vegetables each week throughout the growing season. For best results, crop planning for succession planting can be a way to meet market demand on your fresh market farm. A good place to start for beginning farmers would be ATTRA’s Scheduling Crop Planting for Continuous Harvest publication. It broadly discusses appropriate planting dates, knowing the number of days to harvest, and the length of harvest from first to last picking in order to achieve your goals. A “succession planting chart” is attached for you to record actual measurements of the above topics for use in future growing seasons.
Another publication that will assist in crop planning for continuous harvest is Season Availability of Wisconsin Fruits and Vegetables out of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS). It contains a bar chart with information on average dates of harvest and availability in Wisconsin for a variety of vegetable and fruit crops to help determine dates you will potentially have each crops to market for the entire growing season. The chart also visualizes opportunities for season extension and storability of different crops. These represent the averages and are subject to change depending on factors including weather and your farm’s location.
Examples of Crop Planning for the CSA Farm
Community Supported Agriculture heavily relies on crop planning for continuous harvest in order to deliver diverse weekly box selections. This can mean understanding both greenhouse and field schedules to knowing what your customers expect to see throughout the growing season. A good place to start for a quick snapshot of the process is Fairshare CSA Coalition’s CSA Crop Planning. The publication goes over the steps to designing a share including a table of vegetable groups to include and how many per week, as well as a seasonal breakdown of box contents for the 2012 growing season on Troy Community Farm in Madison, Wisconsin.
Additionally, knowing crop yield information to plan for the CSA season can assist with ensuring you have enough produce for customer’s weekly boxes. A quick reference providing this information is Vegetable Yield Information from Various Sources out of Veggie Compass, an ongoing project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that involves the development of whole farm profit management tools and workshops. The table that makes up this publication specifies the yield in units (tons/acre, lbs/100′), the source of information, and individual crop types.
For a more comprehensive example of a crop plan for a CSA farm see the following Roxbury Farm, located in Kinderhook, New York, resources: CSA Greenhouse Schedule, Field Planting and Seeding Schedule for a 100 Member CSA Farm, and Weekly Share Plan. Other resources including the ones listed above can also be found at http://www.roxburyfarm.com. These resources provide a spreadsheet of greenhouse seeding dates including tray type and expected yields, a spreadsheet of field planting dates for various vegetable crops grown at Roxbury Farm, and a weekly share plan for an entire growing season including crop type and quantity on a week-by-week basis. See the section below for additional resources from another CSA operation, Harmony Valley Farm located in Viroqua, Wisconsin.
Examples of Crop Planning for Non-traditional Environments: Rooftops
When growing in urban environments where space is often a limitation, certain alternatives exist. One such alternative is utilizing compatible rooftop space for your operation. If you are interested in growing on a rooftop planning for things such as expenses, weight limitations, municipal regulations, scale, and irrigation methods are necessary for a successful operation. A good resource on rooftop container gardening is the Guide to Setting Up Your Own Edible Rooftop Garden out of Alternatives and the Rooftop Gardens Project in Montreal. The publication briefly provides planning considerations including scale, partners, type, goals, loading capacity, municipal regulations, sunlight and wind exposure, access, planting considerations, and coordination on rooftop container gardening. It also provides in the second half a technical guide on rooftop container gardening, specifically how to construct containers, and fertilization and watering suggestions.
If you are more interested in rooftop farming utilizing green roof technology, look to current successful operations like Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm in New York City (http://brooklyngrangefarm.com) and firms such as the Northeastern RE Cover Green Roofs, LLC. (http://recovergreenroofs.com) who specialize in building rooftop farms using green roof technology.
Examples of Crop Planning for Non-traditional Environments: Aquaponics
Another non-traditional production process that has gained attention for local food production in recent years is the bio-integrated system of aquaponics. Aquaponics links plant and fish production by utilizing the waste from fish as nutrients for plants and recirculating the water. A good starting point for further information is ATTRA’s Aquaponics: Integration of Hydroponics and Aquaculture. The publication discusses the nutrients in aquaculture effluents, suitable plant species, how to select your fish species, models of commercially viable systems, organic aquaculture and its market potential.
Additional Resources and Citations
Bachmann, Janet. 2008. Scheduling Crop Planting for Continuous Harvest. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA)
Deacon, Deborah and Biographica. Season Availability of Wisconsin Fruits and Vegetables. University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agriculture (CIAS)
De Wilde, Richard, Harmony Valley Farm. 2010. Planning for a Successful CSA Season. FairShare CSA Coalition.
Diver, Steve. 2006 and edited in 2010. Aquaponics: Integration of Hydroponics with Aquaculture. ATTRA
Germain, Amélie, Benjamin Grégoire, Ismaël Hautecoeur, Rotem Ayalon, and André Bergeron. 2008. Guide to Setting Up Your Own Edible Rooftop Garden. Alternatives and the Rooftop Garden Project
Harmony Valley Farm. 2015. Germination Testing Guidelines. FairShare CSA Coalition
Harmony Valley Farm. 2015. Seed Germination Temperatures. FairShare CSA Coalition
Pfeiffer, Anne, Julie Dawson, Alex Liebman, and Claire Strader. 2014. 2014 MOSES Conference: Farming in the City. FairShare CSA Coalition
Roxbury Farm. 2007. 100 Member CSA Plan: Field Planting and Seeding Schedule. Accessed at <http://www.roxburyfarm.com/100-member-csa-plan>
Strader, Claire. 2015. MOSES 2015: CSA Crop Planning Handout. FairShare CSA Coalition
Veggie Compass Project. Vegetable Yield Information from Various Sources. University of Wisconsin Madison