How to Determine Hoophouse Density for Tomatoes and Peppers

Courtesy of Adithya Ramachandran, Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, Dundurn SK

When growing tomatoes in a hoophouse, think about how many plants you would grow on the same amount of space outdoors, divide that by 3, and plant only that number in the hoophouse. This is particularly important for tomatoes because they can get HUGE in a hoophouse. I learned that the hard way my first year with high tunnels. Not only does it make it difficult to work in there, but it also increases disease and pest issues, and they compete with one another for water and nutrients. You can improve your yield per square foot by planting fewer plants. This is particularly so if you don’t prune the plants (which I don’t do – too labor-intensive).

Peppers don’t get as crazy as tomatoes, but they also consume a lot of water and are very shallow-rooted, so again there can be competition if they are crowded.

SF photo fb wisdom Adi hoophouse densifty photo

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Become Your Own Weather Forecaster

Courtesy of Adithya Ramachandran, Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, Dundurn SK

High tunnels require farmers to become their own weather forecasters. In the Saskatoon area, tonight’s forecast low is -13 C (8.6 F). That’s a little too cold for most cool-season crops, so we spent part of last week laying down row cover – 8000 sq ft of it. The cover also accelerates germination.

I’ve kept temperature records in past seasons to determine the effectiveness of row covers. Based on variables such as afternoon soil temperature at a standardized depth, number of layers of row covers, soil moisture status, and height of row covers above
plants, I came up with a few formulas for determining what the overnight low will be.

For example, today’s soil temp. at the 4′ depth is 10 C inside tunnels. I expect it to rise to 14 C by late afternoon. 14 – (-13) is 27. For a single layer, I use a factor of 0.35. 0.35*27 is 9.5. 9.5 + (-13) is -3.5 C (26 F). That is my forecast low underneath the row cover.

For double layered row cover, I use a factor of 0.45. That gives me a forecast low of -1 C (30 F). Sunflower greens are the only crop to get double cover – all other cool-season crops should be fine with one layer.

SF photo guest blog Adi weather forecast

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Raised Beds May Work Against You

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia, PA

When you get serious about production, the first thing to go are those raised beds. Recently SPIN farmer Rex Landings cleared out the last of his.

SF photo Raised beds Rex

When you turn a garden into a business, you start using time and labor saving tools the average gardener does not, like a tiller and a seeder. So you’ll need to consider how well they work with raised beds. They are expensive to build, cumbersome to work, not water efficient, and can dry out quickly in arid climates. They don’t work in every context, for instance, when you are renting a plot without a long term agreement.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is they are permanent. That means you can’t change your layout to grow crops that aren’t suitable for beds or put in very large scale plantings.

Raised beds can have their place, mostly for smaller-sized plots. Some advantages are they warm up earlier, and drain better during periods of heavy rain. The wood frames also can serve as anchors for row covers or low tunnels. But unless the soil you have is contaminated or your site has poor drainage, there’s no good reason to use them. They only limit your design options, and your thinking. If you don’t have to use them to solve problems, raised beds may actually create ones.

ARE RAISED BEDS RIGHT FOR YOU? PICK THE BRAINS OF SUCCESSFUL BACKYARD FARMERS IN THE ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP.  FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF THE SPIN GUIDES.

 

What’s With The #Hashtag?

Courtesy of Julianna Tan, owner/operator, Those Girls at Market, Saskatoon, SK

The first step to having a successful business is having a desirable product or service The second step is letting your customers know. Taken together, these two simple steps have a significant impact on your success (or lack thereof).

I am not an expert on backyard-scale farming, so luckily the SPIN Community has a plethora of resources and mentors to help ensure you can thrive as far as production goes. I can, however, offer a tiny morsel of advice for getting the word out about your product or service.

At some point, somewhere, someone decided that the traditional number sign on your keyboard, also known as the “pound key” (#) would be a great way to unite people all over the world who share interests, passions, and ideas. This symbol today is one of the most widely recognized symbols and can be the arsenal in your toolbox of expanding your customer reach far and wide to your target audience. This iconic symbol is called the #hashtag.

Anyone on social media can use the hashtag (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). If you don’t have these social media platforms, I would highly recommend looking into using them as a free, fun, and effective way to build your brand and communicate with your customers and target audience. From personal experience, the amount of customers we have attracted through Instagram has been unexpectedly impressive!

So let’s get to the meat of this meal (or should I say the root of this vegetable?). How does one use this so-called “hashtag”?

1. Type the # symbol directly before any word (or small group of words) that relate to your product. Do not leave a space between the # symbol and the word and do not use punctuation marks (spaces and apostrophes). For example: #SPINfarming
This hashtag will “tag” your post and become searchable by other people interested in SPIN farming

2. Use multiple hashtags to reach your target audience. For example: #SPINfarming #organic #urbanfarming #vegetables #local #Saskatoon
These 6 hashtags would allow your single post to be searchable by anybody interested SPIN farming, or interested in eating organic foods, curious about urban farming, looking for vegetable ideas to serve for dinner tonight, eating and supporting local, and people living in Saskatoon. (Do not exceed 30 hashtags)

3. Click on hashtags that interest you to discover others who share your interests and passions.

#happyhashtagging!

SF photo guest blog Julianna hashtag 2

Here are some of the words Julianna uses as her hashtags: ethical, sustainable, handmade, organic. What words that best define you? Choose carefully because they will become your “brand.”

HOW ARE OTHER BACKYARD FARMERS BUILDING THEIR BRANDS? FIND OUT IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP.  FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

The Entrepreneurial Advantage Makes All the Difference

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

SPIN-Farming and nonprofits are not a natural fit. Sure, SPIN’s planting plan can be used to maximize yields in a minimum amount of space. But SPIN is primarily a franchise-like business model. Those who have the most success with it use it to become self-employed business owners.

SPIN farmers are ambitious and have a lot, or sometimes everything, on the line. They are just as passionate about their work, and their methods are just as virtuous, as mission-driven growers. But at the end of the day, among their missions is to pay the bills. They have the entrepreneurial advantage.

Nonprofit growers have all their costs covered and they can count on a steady paycheck as long as the grant writers do their jobs. They aren’t vested in their own success. They are really social workers who happen to be growing food.

This differentiation is important when assessing the viability of small scale and urban farming. Skepticism is useful and criticism can be constructive, but it is frequently misplaced. The underachievement and failures of many of the new crop of small and urban farms is not because they can’t be viable. It’s because they lack the entrepreneurial advantage.

SPIN photo Kipp sign

IF YOU WANT TO HANG OUT WITH BACKYARD FARMERS WHO ARE GROWING PROFITS ALONG WITH THEIR VEGGIES, THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP IS THE PLACE FOR YOU. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

How Do you Project Market Share?

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

With selling season almost upon us, one first year urban SPIN farmer writes:

“At this point I am taking a stab in the dark and estimating 5-10% of my local farmer’s market 3,000 weekly customers might pick up a 1/2 lb unit of salad mix or baby greens = 75-150 lbs. of greens a week. I have been shopping at this market for 15 years and it has grown very popular. Most vendors have fairly conventional fair and I haven’t yet seen microgreens and baby salad and greens mixes, which will be our focus. We are aiming for the ‘instant salad’ niche with salad mix, sunflower shoots, herbs, small table bouquets and tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, carrots and baby roots as the season progresses. Is this a realistic range or way off?” 

I never think in terms of market share because it is too hard to pin down. There are too many variables in play for a projection like that to be made. These variables include:

> > what your produce looks like – quality and packaging
> > what your stand looks like
> > how well you connect personally with customers
> > the appeal of your niche crops
> > how successful you can be at capturing early season sales– customers stick with             who they buy from first
> > how well you differentiate yourself from other growers at market – if most aren’t city-            based that could be a huge selling point for you

You just have to go in ready to compete.

SF photo local foods 1

Related posts: How the Pros CompeteCompetition is Healthy

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Plant With Your Head as Well as Your Gut

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

“Go with your gut” is sometimes good advice. But if you want to succeed in business, you also have to use your head. Over the years I have developed strategies for each of my crops. Having a cropping strategy is especially important for crops that are pretty common or low value, such as carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and even greens because you have to differentiate yourself at market from other growers, and you have to turn a low value crop into a high value one. That means having a crop available when others don’t, offering different varieties from others, or targeting different markets, like
restaurants.

For instance, carrots have always been a top money making crop for me. But a carrot is not a carrot is not a carrot. There are different sizes of carrots. There are rainbow carrots. There are novelty carrots. Each one has a different place and time throughout my marketing period.

DDG4 photo 15

Carrots are another big crop because they provide steady cash flow. This year I am growing 10 segments. I sell them steadily throughout the season starting with scallion and then progressing to onion bunches and dry onion in the fall.

Leafy greens are another important crop to think through because there are so many options – chard, collards, kale, lettuces, salad mixes, spinaches. Fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro and parsley can also be included. And then there are micro greens, orach, purslane and other novelty crops. My greens strategy is based on having anywhere from 100 units to 500 units of some combination of greens throughout the season, especially early on before other producers have them.

Knowing why you are growing a certain crop is as important as knowing how to grow it, and having cropping strategies is what turns growing into a business.

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What is the Best Way to Prep Land?

Courtesy of  Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Early springs around the US and Canada means discussions are heating up in the SPIN online support group on the best way to prep land. As with so many farming questions, the answer is, “It depends.” There is no right answer.

For instance, the best answer in this case is not necessarily the obvious one. A large multi-segment area in the country can be prepped with just a spade, growing on a staggered basis over time.

SF photo fb spade

A small backyard area can be put into play with a rototiller in a few minutes.

SF photo fb tiller

It all depends on the logistical and practical concerns a farmer is dealing with at any one time. So whenever the answer is “It depends”, that is not a cop out. It means whoever is answering the question operates in the real world and knows that the right answer is not a dictate, but a process.

FIND OUT OTHER LAND PREP FACTORS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. TRIAL MEMBERSHIP IS FREE WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

Low Maintenance Crops Are Worth Way More Than The Effort

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

I’ve used a multi-locational land base for over 25 years, and that has led me to appreciate low maintenance crops. They are ones I grow on plots that are not near my backyard home base. Most of the work goes into getting them established but once they are, maintenance work is minimal. Most years I can just rely on rainfall. If I get a substantial rainfall or two throughout the season, no irrigation at all is necessary.

Summer/winter squash and pumpkins was my low maintenance crop last year, and they really needed to be. We had a two month drought, and I would not have been able to invest the time to go out to the plot to do daily waterings. After transplanting, I watered each plant using a hose with a brush attachment. During the dry spell I did that once a week, and it took one hour to water 7,000 sq.ft. The plot has a well, and water is limited. So I created a crater around each plant to hold the water and directed the water right to that area around the plant. Weeding is the other consideration on plots away from home. With sprawling plants all you have to do is get them to maturity and then they take up all the space around them so weeds have no place to grow.

SPIN photo squash plot 2

Low maintenance crops can also come into play in managing a larger land base. Keep your intensive relay areas to under an acre and close to the house, and put the the rest of the acreage into crops that need lots of space to sprawl, but do not need the tlc. My squash and pumpkin crop yield was 4,000 lbs. and $7K. Not bad for a crop that mostly took care of itself. Other low maintenance crops are green/yellow beans,garlic, onions from sets, and potatoes.

SPIN stands for s-mall p-lot in-tensive, but opportunity comes in lots of different sizes. If you see demand at market for a single season crop, or someone offers you a large plot outside of town, think beyond your backyard plot and put low maintenance crops into play.

YOU CAN JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION OF HOW WALLY MANAGES HIS SQUASH PATCH AND WHICH VARIETIES ARE TOP SELLERS IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP.  FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE. 

Companion Planting is Good Business

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Companion planting is a gardening pratice that dates back a long time. Traditionally, its purpose was to boost plant health or yields by growing certain plants together. SPIN-Farming puts that practice to use in business. As SPIN farmer John Greenwood of
JNJ Farms writes, “I can’t imagine a single crop for the whole season. Even my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash are interplanted into beds of lettuce, radish, spinach and turnips. That way, I can still be selling cool season crops while the next crop is growing in the same spot.”

I have used companion planting in plots where I am growing crops like cucumbers or  winter squash that need wide row spacing. I can easily harvest a quick growing short season crop such as arugula or microgreens, in between the rows. This spin on companion planting can greatly boost your units of production per bed and per segment, as well provide for consistent extended season production that’s needed to support a business. Sometimes good old common sense can also be turned into dollars and cents.

SF photo companion planting what would you plant here

What would you grow in between this planting of winter squash to boost your revenue? 

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