Breaking New Ground – Across the Street

Courtesy of Jared Regier, Chain Reaction Urban Farm, Saskatoon SK

We are putting a boulevard space into production this season. It happens to be right across the street from our home and has full sun exposure.

SF photo blog Jared breaking new ground  1

It will take a bit of extra work to roll out and clean up a water line each time we irrigate, but we will save a lot of travel time. We are mindful of the risk involved in having our crops out in the open but we will avoid tempting crops like tomatoes and hopefully minimize theft.

Neighbours have told me that they have seen nothing but grass in this boulevard space for as long as they have lived there. In some cases this means up to 60 years. Some of them admitted to mowing it once in a while but that is about as much action as it has seen. The boulevard garden registration process with the city of Saskatoon simply requires approval from adjacent land owners and compliance with a few height restrictions and setback allowances from the curb. Thankfully, the neighbours have all been on board with our efforts so we have been able to march ahead steadily.

Once the plot was registered officially, I got to work. Here are the steps I followed to prepare the soil for vegetable production. These steps should work pretty well for any new ground if you are starting a garden with a similar piece of land.

Step 1: The ground was very compacted so I dug a large part of it by hand with a spade as a first step just to help our
rototiller get a little deeper. I did not remove the grass because it is still valuable as decomposing organic matter in the

Step 2: After spading, I immediately tilled the entire plot thoroughly, just letting the tiller go as deep as it could manage, which which was only 2 to 4 inches at this stage.

Step 3: I waited a couple of weeks to let any surviving grass use up some of its energy to get reestablished. There were a few areas with quack grass that required careful removal of the roots at this point.

Step 4: I broadforked the entire plot to make it possible for my tiller to work a little deeper. This was time consuming but made a big difference.

Step 5: I tilled the plot again thoroughly and was able to get much deeper this time thanks to the broadfork work.

Step 6: I measured and marked the standard sized beds. From this point on, I will never walk on the bed space.

SF photo blog Jared breaking new ground 2

Step 7: Next, I ordered 8 yards of screened compost and top dressed each bed with a layer about 4 inches thick. I simply spread the compost on the surface so it can act as a mulch to suppress new weeds and also still enrich the soil. Worms and water will slowly work for me to distribute the nutrients and organic matter from the compost into the rest of the soil below.

SF photo blog Jared breaking ground 3

There you have it. Now that the soil is prepped for planting, the only setup work left at this plot is the irrigation system. I will be trying a new style of micro sprinkler at this location which I am excited about, but the details will need to wait for another day. I will explain more about this system in the future after I have had some time to use it for a while.
reprinted from Chain Reaction Urban Farm newsletter.

Find out what other unconventional spaces backyard farmers use and how they prep them in the SPIN Online Support group. Receive a free trial membership with the purchase of any SPIN guide.  


Jumpstart an Herb Business on 1,200 Sq. Ft.

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

A SPIN member just joined the online support group looking to fast track some fresh herb sales. He wrote:

“Hello All. I plan to combine the sale of herbs only at two or three of my local farmers markets along with Pre-Packaged Nuts/ Seeds and Spices. My hope is to promote the sales of the nut and seed business with the fresh herb offerings. I have had success growing basil, chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender on a small scale over the past three seasons and am ready to commit approximately x 1200 sq ft of garden space to this effort. Any feedback on what to focus on in order to maximize my effort would be greatly appreciated. I am a one man show, growing in Northeast PA. Zone 6a. Thanks in advance.”

Herbs are a great addition to diversify or compliment a product line,especially for solo operators because they are easy to plant, harvest and prep. Cilantro, dill,and parsley are good bets. You can get 2 -3 cuts of cilantro before it goes to seed. So you will need several staggered plantings to take you through the season. You can get even more cuts from baby/green dill, but again, you need staggered plantings. Parsley is all season, so there is no need for staggered plantings.

SF photo blog herb dill cilantro

Plant cilantro and dill with tight spacings using an Earthway seeder in 4 – 5 row standard beds, using the chard plate. Use transplants for parsley.

You should target units of production on the 100 to 200 bunches in total of the three herbs on a weekly basis. If you have a 20 marketing week period, you’ll produce 2,000 to 4,000 bunches. At $2.00 per bunch, you can target revenue of $4K to $8K.

Herbs are very high value, are always in demand at market and their fragrance adds a sensual dimension to your stand. So if you have some unused space next to the barbie, or can rig up some containers on a patio, you can make profitable use of it by growing the useful plants.

SF photo blog herb parsely in tubs cropped



Early Spring Marketing Using Unheated High Tunnels

Courtesy of Adithya Ramachandran, Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, Dundurn SK

Most farmers underperform at early spring markets. SPIN-Farming is based on generating strong cash flow by targeting $1,000 weekly sales – in late April or early May – regardless of your growing zone. To do that you need to ignore conventional gardening practices, and get into production early, in volume. Adithya Ramachandran’s Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, is in zone 3. Here is what he went to market with May 7.

SF photo fb early spring market Adi

Adi is using unheated high tunnels..and improving his production strategy all the time. Read below.

This spring has been an interesting learning experience. There are some things I would do different next year, including increasing my staggering time for radishes, and a greater focus on beets, green garlic and kohlrabi to target late spring sales.

Something else that I would like to try out next spring is an early planting of broad beans for bean production. I noticed that the ones I seeded in March were flowering now. However I tilled them all under because they were planted densely for shoot production (I didn’t get around to harvesting them all), and they wouldn’t have done well.

I also plan to diversify my spring sales next year with tulips.

Find out how backyard farmers get off to strong spring production and sales in early spring in the SPIN online support group. Receive free trial membership with the purchase of any SPIN guide. 

Working the Soil is What Farmers Do

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA 

Farmers get attached to their soil for good reason. No soil, no business. They have to treat it right, and there are lots of groups and movements telling them so. They may be overstating their case, however, if farmers are starting to feel guilty, defensive or ashamed whenever they pick up a shovel or fire up the tiller.

A SPIN farmer in Hawaii recently wrote:

Quick question for ya’ll …

I grow arugula here on Maui as you know. You also know it’s essentially a quick crop to grow. I plant it in sections at different times, so I always have available product for sale. My question is with regards to overtilling. After each harvest, every 6 to 7 weeks, I till the area (depth of 5″ +/- inches, composting old plant into soil) and reseed for the next crop. I’ve been reading about the issues of soil disturbance in doing so, but how is this to be avoided? Mahalo for your thoughts.

Agriculture disturbs the soil, always has and always will. You can’t plant without some type of soil disturbance. If you think rototilling is too harmful to the soil, you can pull the spent plants by hand instead of tilling in. Then you can use a hand tool, such as a three pronged cultivator, to bed prep. Then rake the bed, so it is level. So using hand tools, even on acre-size plots is do-able, if you feel the trade-off in time and effort is worth it.

If the question relates to a decrease in productivity, you should consult with a soil expert. But most often it stems from a philosophical concern. Wally has been cropping some of his backyard plots with a tiller for over 20 years and the soil remains healthy and productive. He loses no sleep over soil disturbance.

If the thought of working the soil disturbs you, you might want to consider a different line of work.

SF photo do not disturb sign

Find out how SPIN farmers keep their soil healthy and productive in the SPIN online support group. Free trial membership comes with the purchase of any SPIN guide.

Losing Land is No Tragedy for a SPIN Farmer

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

There was a plot I had been farming for about five years, and now it’s gone. The owner sold her house that it was attached to, and she had no interest in accommodating me as part of the deal. If this were a traditional farming story, I’d be playing the tragic hero-farmer being kicked off his land.

That’s not my story. I can actually say “Good riddance.” It was a good plot. It was about a half hour’s drive north of my Saskatoon home base. It was 7,000 square feet, so 7 segments. I’ve grown my longer season crops there – onions, potatoes, squash, and I could count on it contributing $7K – $12K to my bottom line each year. But over the years, its negatives started outweighing the positives. Traffic on the drive there got crazier, and I obtained other plots in the opposite direction, so logistics were more burdensome.

Now a friend at market has about 6,000 sq. ft. he says I can use which is only a couple of miles from another one of my plots. So I can manage both in one day. To make up the loss of the 1,000 sq. ft. I can intensify production. So this story has a happy ending: I am losing a peri-urban site that was becoming tough to manage, and getting a new site that will be easier to integrate.

That’s the advantage to being a multi-locational SPIN farmer. You have more options to access land (in the US there are 40 million acres of lawn), and you are less likely to get stuck in a rut.

SF photo blog Losing land

Goodbye plot. You served me well, but I won’t be crying in my beer over this breakup.

SPIN farmers have innovative strategies for accessing land. You can find out how they find and manage in the SPIN online support group.  Free trial membership comes with the purchase of any SPIN guide.

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


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


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.



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.


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.”


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