Homestead Update: Our Farm Plans for 2019
One thing I know that many of you wonderful readers are excited to know more about is our garden and farm plans in the coming new year. I love sharing this information each year as planning is one of my absolute favorite parts of creating! This year I feel more relaxed about getting started with our plants than ever before. I finally figured out (somewhat, mind you) the equations behind how much a plant will produce, how many plants we need to serve a certain amount of people, and what the correct spacing is. Farming crops over just growing them in a garden can be confusing, overwhelming, and eye opening. It was difficult last year to learn how many plants were needed. It’s something where now that I know how to do it, I feel dumb for not being able to wrap my head around the concept before. I also have days where the math just does not sink in! It’s not my strong suit. If you are curious about how many plants you might need to put into a personal garden, you can check out my post on the topic here. It might help you out before purchasing seeds this year!
This year we will be expanding the field by three times the amount we farmed last year. We specifically fed 9 families of 2-4 people in our CSA program last year off a quarter acre of land (this is a rough estimate of 35-40 people, plus our own family). This also supplied our booth at farmer’s markets, and we always went home with extra food. That just goes to show you how much food you can truly produce (even with some pretty bad crops - my potatoes and onions were just pitiful last year) on a small chunk of land.
This year we will be farming almost exactly one acre, just a little over actually. I am still struggling to fill all of the beds. I know - you are probably thinking that I should be having trouble cutting everything down. Truthfully, up until about a month ago I was struggling in that department. I had a lot more diversity in our crops on the list, which my dad finally convinced me to let go of. We decided to cut out some specific crops this year: dahlias, gladiolus, sweet corn, and ornamental pumpkins and gourds. These are wonderful additions to any small farm and market garden. We know this. But we also have limits and want to make our land not only successful but profitable as well. We learned this past year that ornamental pumpkins were not as profitable for us as edible squash like butternut, spaghetti, pie pumpkins, etc. Why take up the room with them when we could use the space for more profitable crops like onions, potatoes, and carrots? There is also a lot of competition around here with pumpkins - sweet corn has a similar story! So we’ll leave that up to our neighbors and grow what we grow best. As for the dahlias, we don’t have to time to invest in them when we make a really amazing profit off of easier flowers to grow like zinnias and sunflowers. This year it’s all about perfecting our crop and experimenting later.
We will be changing our plot a bit. The aronia berries that once took up 3/4 of an acre were removed back in November and will be either burned or mulched and spread out on the field as organic matter. I’ll be getting a soil test done in the next month so that we may apply any amendments that are needed on the field. Instead of planting east to west like we did last year, I’ll be planting north to south which makes each of our rows 100 feet in length exactly. The beds will be 3 feet wide, and the paths will be 2 feet wide. Last year we made 30 inch beds with 14 inch walking paths. This was too small for us, though it is the most common bed measurement out there right now. We will be left with about 84-87 beds depending. I need to go out and measure again to make sure!
What will our field look like? Hopefully weed free! We have been entirely convinced by the weed barrier fabric that we purchased for our autumn crops last year. It blew our minds out of the water. When we pulled up the rows of fabric in November, a nice soft layer of moist soil was underneath with absolutely zero weeds growing. The fabric does allow water through it, but can somehow block out weed growth. The only weeding I had to do last fall was around individual plants and a little in between the rows of tight crops like carrots and turnips. I think for me, weeding becomes overwhelming when the walking paths become dense with them.
We will have a gorgeous field of both flowers and vegetables. I cannot wait to see it in its summer glory! Here is a list of what we will be growing in 2019:
Zinnias, Sunflowers, Snapdragons, Asters, Foxglove, Bells of Ireland, Sweet Peas, Stock, Strawflower, Celosia, Sweet Annie, Cress, Dill, Sage, Shiso, Lavender, Eryngium, Basil, Mint, Ornamental Kale
Tomatoes (cherry, paste, beefsteak, slicing, and heirloom varieties), Cucumbers (slicing and picking varieties), Peppers (bell, hot, and sweet varieties), Lettuce Heads (I’ll be sticking with mostly Romaine this year!), Salad Mix, Tatsoi (no spinach this year - tatsoi grew much better in our field!), Arugula, Beets, Radishes, Zucchini and Yellow Squash, Winter Squash (butternut, delicata, spaghetti, and kabocha), Carrots, Onions, Broccoli, Cabbage, Beans, Potatoes, Kale, Collards, Eggplant, Kohlrabi, Scallions, Peas, Rutabagas, Chard, Turnips, Basil, Calendula, Watermelon, and Sweet Potatoes.
2019 will also bring a fun experiment for me… Turning our herb garden near the beehive into a demonstration garden! The plot is about 400 square feet - not large at all. I had a lot of readers tell me in our blog survey that they wanted more information about growing in limited space gardens. While we no longer really do that since moving to the farm, I still wanted to share my experience and ideas for growing in a small plot. It’s entirely possible to feed your whole family and neighbors, too, without much space to plant in! This also gives me the opportunity to trial some new varieties that we could potentially grow in the field as well as experiment with different structures and planting techniques. I really want to try growing a pumpkin archway and build a-frames for cucumbers!
As for the chickens, they will continue to do their thing. We now have 34 hens, and I hope to add 10-15 more layers. No roosters, please! I’ll continue to purchase more flock members each year to keep the layers young and rotate out older hens. At this point in time, I am considering culling hens due to the sheer number of our flock as well as the high demand for eggs that we were not aware of until we started selling them. We can hardly keep a dozen in the store fridge. Though no culling will be done for another couple of years.
This year my plan is add more Ameraucanas and French Black Copper Marans to the mix so that we have an even better egg basket.
The hens will move out of the coop they are currently living in now and into a new building. My dad has plans to construct an entirely new chicken coop out by the herb/demonstration garden. It will be larger and more structured towards easy clean up. We are trying to figure out the best option for a run for us, or even if we want one since the hens just roam on pasture all day long anyway. With over 40 hens in the future, that makes for a rather large pen!
Their coop right now will be converted into a walk-in refrigerator for our Country Store! This will give us ample storage for all of our produce during the growing season. I cannot wait!!!
I will be ordering the bulk of our seeds grown out in the field from Johnny’s Select Seeds this year. I had such great success with their seeds last year and love that they give bulk options at better prices. While I have a lot of seed companies that I love (High Mowing Organic Seeds, Botanical Interests, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange) they aren’t practical for the amount of crop we’ll be planting. I will be buying from those companies to plant in the demonstration garden, though! I’ll share all of that information and which varieties I am trying this year in a future post. As for flowers, I also get our seeds from Johnny’s. They have a great selection, and while Floret is an amazing company, I’ve had trouble starting their seeds and getting good germination results for the past two years. It’s kind of disappointing! Johnny’s has just as good of a selection of cut flowers. Check them out!
What will you be planting in the garden this year? Is there anything you are excited about or even struggling with? I’d love to know what you hope to grow!