Courtesy of Jared Regier, Chain Reaction Urban Farm, Saskatoon SK
So this is what a typical quiet evening at home looks like these days. My wife Rachel snuck this photo while I was in full head scratching planning mode a few nights ago.
Now that I know how many families we’ll be growing for and what size of memberships they have chosen, I can begin fitting the pieces of the puzzle together. Across our five plots, we have a total of 86 standard sized beds to work with and over 30 different crops to fit in, all with specific proportions and timing based on the harvests we need for our farm members. Added to that are the demands of crop rotation and consideration for unique pest pressures and soil differences at each plot. As Rachel would say, it’s a bit of a tricky pickle!
Spreadsheets have been a crucial part of the planning process but I can only stare at a computer for so long. This year, I am experimenting with a new hands on planning method using magnets and white boards.
If you’re keen to know how it works, here are a few details. First, I mapped out each of our plots on a white board to show the number of standard beds that were available. Then I cut magnets to represent all of the different crops that need to be accounted for throughout the season. For example, my spreadsheet calculations show that we will need about 12 beds of lettuce throughout the season so I made 12 lettuce magnets. Pretty simple right, but that’s not best part yet. Planting 12 lettuce beds is pretty easy. The challenge is timing the harvest of those 12 beds of lettuce and along with all of the other crops so that our members get a nice mix of vegetables over the course of 15 weeks.
Timing the harvest of our crops is the real puzzle and that is the strength of this planning system. To show the passing of time, all of the black beds are cut to the same length so that each 1/2 inch in length represents one month in time starting in April and ending in October. The white crop magnets are cut to a length too, and their length represents the amount of time they require in a bed. That means those lettuce magnets I mentioned earlier are all 1 inch in length to show that they will occupy no more than 60 days in a bed. The system lets me easily tinker with plots like the one below where many beds will see up to 3 different crops throughout the season.
Once constructed, these little magnet farm plots have made the work of field planning much more enjoyable. They have also helped me see some crop rotation solutions that I probably would have missed otherwise. I think this is a method I will stick with for years to come.
Need help with your crop planning? Purchase any of our guides and get free trial membership to the SPIN forum. There, you can pick the brains of the most successful backyard farmers today – like Jared.