Sattin Hill Market Farming Course Module 7: Considerations and Strategies for Crop Planning (FSFS245)

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Episode Summary

This episode of Farm Small Farm Smart features the seventh module of the Sattin Hill Market Farming Course, where Josh Sattin talks about great tips and strategies we can implement on our farms when it comes to planning out our crops for the season.  

Today’s Guest: Josh Sattin

Josh Sattin is a farmer at Sattin Hill Farm in Raleigh, North North Carolina. As an educator and professional videographer, Josh has published hundreds of educational farming videos on his YouTube to help make a difference in the local farming and foodscape.

            Josh Sattin – YouTube | Instagram | Website

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • An overview of the Sattin Hill Farm Course Module 7 (00:08)
  • Considerations for crop planning (01:10)
    • There is no crop planning playbook (02:05)
  • Planning your crops based on your sales outlets (03:41)
  • How seasonality plays a role in crop planning (07:00)
    • Keeping mind days to maturity (07:28)
  • How to get better with estimating days to maturity (09:02)
  • Considering growing in the wintertime (09:26)
  • How Josh Sattin plans out his crops (10:18)
  • Advantages to having direct-seeded crops (11:28)
  • Timing is crucial to executing good crop planning (12:16)
  • Transplanting as a crop planning and space maximizing strategy (14:15)
  • Knowing yields per bed can help with crop planning (16:00)
    • Josh’s thoughts on getting more than one cut out of a single lettuce plant (16:13)
  • Increasing your farm’s output with interplanting (17:52)
  • Keep experimentation to a minimum (18:37)
  • Reserve some flexibility in your crop planning (19:03)

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FSFS245 (SHFC 7)

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to Farm Small Farm Smart. I'm your host, Diego. DIEGO. Today, the Sattin Hill Farm Course continues with module seven on crop planning. If you want to watch Josh's presentation of this module, you can do so on his YouTube channel, which I've linked to below.

[00:00:20] And if you want additional resources like guides that you can actually print out to go with each module, you can find those at Paperpot.Co/Josh. I hope you enjoy this one. Let's get into it with farmer Josh Sattin on crop planning.

[00:00:38] Josh Sattin: Welcome to module seven of the sat and farm course. This module is all about crop planning and before we get into it, I just have to have a huge thanks to Paperpot Co. for sponsoring this entire course without the help of Diego and Paperpot Co., this entire course wouldn't be possible. And more on than later.

[00:00:54] In this module, I'll talk about overall considerations and how your crop land will depend on your sales outlets. Talk about succession planting and seasonality my personal crop strategy. Some timing transplants. Talk about a little bit about harvesting and some other tips.

[00:01:10] Let's start this off by talking about overall considerations. And I think the first thing you have to think about is what you want to grow. Hopefully you already saw module three, that one was all about crop selection. If you haven't go check that out, you'll help you figure out what you want. Once you figured out what you want to grow, you have to figure out your crop plan.

[00:01:26] And the best time to think about this is not during your season. So, for most people, their off season is wintertime. And that's when you should be doing your crop plan. You should then be thinking about what you want to grow, how much of each crop you want to grow. And that will determine what seeds you need to order and how much of.

[00:01:41] That you'll need for the season. And I really recommend doing that when it's not busy because during your season, during the spring and summer, you're going to be super busy planting and harvesting and working on the field. You're going to be tired. You know, there will be some audibles that you'll have to call during the season.

[00:01:55] We'll be making some adjustments on the fly for sure. But spend the time when things are quiet and you have a lot of brain space to think about your crop plan, you'll do a much better job with that. Now I can't stress this enough. Crop planning that there is no playbook. There is no follow these things and you will be successful.

[00:02:14] Now, when I first started my farm, I kind of did that. I was following some other people's playbooks and they didn't really work for me, either. My context here, my sales outlets, my ability to grow certain crops as. All those things. So what I've been stressing during this entire course is that I will give you the guidelines, the ideas, the frameworks, to think about this and strategies so that you can form your own plan.

[00:02:36] And that way you'll really understand it and make it work for you. So the thing that you really want to start thinking about is obviously, you know, your crop selection, you know, what you want to grow, but how much you'll need of each crop per week. For example, if you need 50 pounds of lettuce every week, well, then you have to figure out how to.

[00:02:52] 50 pounds of lettuce each week and have it ready to harvest. This takes a lot of time and practice and record keeping and experience this stuff. Doesn't just come right away. It takes time from season to season and learning how to grow things and figuring out how long they take and the yields that you're getting in your system.

[00:03:08] And those kinds of things. There are a variety of approaches to crop planning. Some people are super detailed, super specific, you know, down to the week in terms of what they're planting, what they're harvesting. And I think that, as I said, that takes a lot of time and experience and years of learning, how to grow and taking notes.

[00:03:26] And then there's people that don't crop plan a lot. I'm kind of in the middle and talk about my crop planning strategy in a little bit, but keep in mind, eat to figure out what works for you, your farm, and your farm business.

[00:03:41] Your crop plan will depend a lot on your sales outlets and how you're selling your produce. So we'll talk about the different sales outlets right now. So we'll start with restaurants because that's my jam, right? I sell, I sell only to restaurants. The biggest thing that I found is important with crop planning, for selling to restaurants is consistency, consistency in the amount of product, but also the quality.

[00:04:01] So once you start selling to a restaurant, generally, You know, there'll be buying roughly the same amount from you every week. Of course, it'll fluctuate a little bit, depending on how busy they are and those sorts of things. But for example, I saw a lot of lettuce and there's certain restaurants that buy a specific amount every week.

[00:04:16] If it's 10 pounds, if it's 15 pounds and they are relying on that as their source of lettuce. Now, if I don't have it one week or a couple of weeks or whatever, they have other ways to get lettuce, but they're purposely buying from me because they like my products. They like my farm. They like me, whatever. The products they speak for themselves, but you want to make sure that you have that for them week to week.

[00:04:35] And that's really, what's going to sell your relationship and sell your products is like, yep. I have lettuce every week and you can rely on it and that's going to be super important. So that will take some planning with succession planting and learning how to do that. We'll get into that a little bit later.

[00:04:50] Now, when it comes to CSA, As I said in previous modules, I think this is the hardest sales outlet, mainly because the execution is very difficult. I recommend you have about six to 10 items per week in your CSA box. And if you think about that, you have to have six to 10 items that are ready to harvest every single week.

[00:05:08] Now that takes incredible crop planning and knowledge about a lot of different crops. If you are growing a bunch of things and one week you have 15 things ready, and one week you have three things ready. That's not going to work. I found that the CSA farmers that are super successful are really good at crop planning.

[00:05:24] And it's not just like laying things out, like in a spreadsheet or on paper or whatever, it's the knowledge of each crop, how long they take at certain times a year and when they're going to be ready to harvest, and then they'll basically have every box sort of outlined every week sort of outlined.

[00:05:38] And there'll be some things that'll be variable, of course, for, you know things growing quicker or slower, crop failures, those kinds of things. But I think it's a very structured plan with a CSA. If you go Willy nilly with crop planning on CSA farms, you're not going to be very successful.

[00:05:51] Now, the farmer's market, I think is kind of a mixture of consistency and seasonality because I recommend that if you are selling to a farmer's market, and you have a few products that people kind of want every week, like if you are the guy that has great salad mix, they'll come to you because they know they want to buy a bag or two a salad.

[00:06:07] You know, for the family for the week and then they'll check out what else you have. The great thing is you can bring whatever you want to the farmer's market, as I mentioned before, and it's a great place to get started selling your produce, but there can be some seasonality to it, too.

[00:06:20] Of course, like during the spring, summer and fall and winter, you're growing diff some different things, and that can kind of keep people's attention, keep people's interests in your farm stand and allow you to sell more products to your customers.

[00:06:34] If you only have two or three products every week, then your average sale price per customer is going to be lower. But if you can bring a couple more items in, I think that's great, and people love it. And when you have regular customers, you can let them know the things are coming up.

[00:06:46] You'd be like, Hey, we're gonna have squash in two weeks. Get excited for that, blah, blah, blah. Having a mixture of consistency and seasonality, I think is great for a farmer�s market sales.

[00:06:59] Seasonality plays a huge role in crop planning. And first and most, probably most obvious thing is you want to plant certain crops during times a year where they grow really well. So for example, you're not going to grow tomatoes in the winter time, and there are certain crops that you probably wouldn't grow in the summertime, especially here in North Carolina, where it's pretty warm in the summer.

[00:07:15] So not just when during the year crops do well, but also insect pressure and those sorts of things. We'll talk about that in another module, but there's certain crops that you probably only want to grow at a certain time of the year. In addition to which crops to grow, you have to keep in mind how long that crops take to get to the point where you're going to harvest them.

[00:07:33] This is what's known as the days to maturity. Like, how many days does it take until you harvest it? These are listed. seed catalogs websites, a lot of seed packages, it'll say carrots, 60 days. For example, those numbers are based on the middle of the season, and it will vary depending on what time of the year.

[00:07:50] You're planting things. For example, in the spring and fall, what's known as the shoulder seasons, things will grow more slowly, of course, even more slowly in the wintertime. And the reason for that is there's less light and there's less heat. So you have to keep that in mind. Now, when we're talking about succession planting, that's when you're planting successions of a certain crop, so you have a consistent output.

[00:08:10] You need to take that into consideration because if you start planting in the spring, let's say you plant two beds that are three weeks apart. Well, as those start to grow towards summer, the days are longer, there's more heat. The one that you planted later will start to catch up.

[00:08:28] And it becomes almost exponential. And so when you plant something, maybe three weeks apart, it might be ready only a week apart. And the opposite is true in the fall. So, depending on how late in the fall you plant something. If you plant something one week apart, it might be ready three weeks apart or even longer.

[00:08:44] Because as you�re pushing in towards the winter time, there's less light, less heat and things just exponentially slow down. So you have to keep that in mind, in the middle of the season, in the summer, you can plant things. If you need a bed of lettuce every week, you can plant one, a bed of lettuce every week and they'll come up basically a week apart.

[00:09:02] So to get good at this, the best thing you can do is take notes and keep records that like, if I plant a bed of lettuce in mid-September and I harvest it in late November, Then you'll know how long it takes or if you plant it in mid-September and it's not ready till late December, then you'll need to keep that in mind.

[00:09:18] And that's when you can then go back the next year and figure out when you need to plant things, so you have successions and consistent output. So that's kind of how you handle the summer versus the shoulder seasons. Now the wintertime is a whole nother thing, and I'm gonna make a module about winter growing because it's actually my main season, and I've learned quite a bit in the last few years about it.

[00:09:35] But with winter growing, you basically have to plant everything ahead of time and things. I, they, they just maintain, they don't really grow super fast. I mean, here I get some growth when we have a streak of like warm sunny days, but the light levels are so low that you don't get a lot of growth. So most of what happens is you're planting ahead of time.

[00:09:53] And then it's just kind of coasting through the winter. You can plant some stuff in the winter time here, but it's so slow that usually by the time spring, Everything starts growing super, super quickly, and you have a whole bunch of food. So it's a little bit tricky when you're planting in the winter, but most of the time with the winter, you're planting it in late fall or during the fall, and kind of just harvesting throughout the wintertime.

[00:10:18] Now let's get into my crop planning techniques. And as I said, there's the people that are super detailed and super organized with a crop way. And there's people that have. I'm kind of in the middle and I could definitely improve on this, but what I tend to do is I plan all my transplants, which is a lot of my what I'm growing is transplants.

[00:10:36] So we'll get into that in another module. So I'll plan those out because those have to be done ahead of time. And so, for example, if in my succession planting or planning, I need to have a bed of lettuce every week, well, then what I'll be doing is I'll be starting my transplants in the nursery. I'll do one bed�s worth of lettuce every week.

[00:10:51] Now, once I have all those starts ready to go, there's a constant stream of them, that's what I'm planting out. And when I have extra beds, I will direct seed whatever I have extra beds available. So for me, I direct seed carrots. So those are usually the beds that are just extra, that I wind up planting my carrots into, but it will depend on, you know, what's important for your farm business.

[00:11:15] And for me, that's kind of what works. It's good to have a couple of crops that you can easily direct seed if you have an open bed, you could use cover crops to if you have more space, but generally I'm growing cash crops. So that's what I do is I plan my transplants and then I direct seed what's left.

[00:11:28] The other thing about having some direct seeded crops, which is great is that if crops fail. Right. If you put out some transplants and they don't work, you can easily go in and direct seeds and crops. And that works really, really well. I also like to have a seasonal crop. So I have my staples, which I mentioned, mentioned in my crop selection video.

[00:11:46] I do let us carrots and beets and then a seasonal crop right now. I have Patty pan squash planted. It's mid April. That's kind of what I do for my crop planning is I have a couple of staples and then I have one seasonal and that allows some flexibility with what I'm growing, but also kind of keeps it a little bit more interesting because as I said, with my restaurant accounts, they kind of want the same thing every week and then giving them some seasonality and letting them know ahead of time, they can plan for that, and they get excited about having seasonal crops.

[00:12:16] Good timing is crucial for executing your crop plan. And as I said, for me, I do most of my planning with my transplants. So when I start a bunch of seeds, I know that in three or four weeks, I'm gonna need to have beds ready for them. And you need to make sure that the beds are ready for those transplants.

[00:12:30] And that's where a lot of this crop planning comes into plays. Also, you don't want to leave empty beds. This can, this is a bad for a few reasons. Remember with the no-till practices and living soil, one of the best things you need to do is keep the ground covered, keep the ground planted. So you always want to have something growing in the ground.

[00:12:46] If it's not a cash crop, it's a cover crop. But if you don't have. You know, a bed planted with some sort of cash crop on a small acreage like this, you're losing money. So make sure that your plan is you have enough beds for your transplants, but you're also keeping them full. And I think that's where that balance of transplanting and direct seating really come into play here to keep your beds now.

[00:13:06] Let me jump in here real quick and take a minute. Talk about our sponsor, Paperpot Co. As I mentioned at the beginning of this video, this entire course wouldn't be possible without the support of Diego and Diego is not just the owner of paved pot co he's also an unbelievable podcaster and YouTube. I highly recommend you check out his.

[00:13:24] Farm small farm smart. It was a huge inspiration for myself as I was getting into farming and learning how to grow food. He's interviewed hundreds of farmers, including myself a few times. If you want to go check that out. And there's a lot of great information in there about farm business and growing techniques.

[00:13:39] Diego is a huge proponent of farm education. As you can tell by sponsoring this course, there's a lot of great things over at the paper pot co website, in terms of tools and equipment and supplies. I really recommend you go check it out. They really focused on high quality. Great customer service and being a reliable place to buy things from also, there are additional resources over on the paper, hot co website for this course.

[00:14:02] So check that out at paper, Thanks, payback co for sponsoring this and go check out what they have and let them know that you're enjoying this quarter. Back to the module.

[00:14:15] Transplanting is a huge part of the strategy here on my farm, and there's a bunch of reasons for that. Now I'll get into some specific transplanting techniques in a later module. What I want to talk overall about why I love transplanting so much when you're on small acreage, you would need to do anything you can to increase your yields to become profitable. And transplanting is one of those ways.

[00:14:33] And the reason for that is when you are starting seeds in your nursery, and getting them to grow. They have three or four weeks of growth before they even get into the ground. Now, the beds that they're being transplanted in, have another crop in them. So you're not quite doubling each bed, but maybe 1.5 times-ing each bed, because you're having things grow ahead of time before they even go in the ground.

[00:14:56] This will give you more yield, of course, because you're getting, you know, more output per bed. The other thing I love about transplanting is that you can only�you can select the transplants going into the ground and just put out the healthiest transplants and you can get an exact density.

[00:15:11] And we'll talk more about that as I said, in the specific transplanting module, but it really is helpful to get really solid stands and really high yields because you can put out exactly what you want. And what I found is that, especially with soil blocks and my nursery management stuff, which I'll get into later, I just been getting huge yields with transplants.

[00:15:33] And the other thing, there's certain crops that need a different temperatures to germinate. And if you put them out in the. So I'm out here in the tunnels sun has, I may not germinate for example, like lettuce in the warmer months. So as I said, we'll get into nursery management and soil blocks and transplanting later, but transplanting is a huge part of the, the, the farm here, because I can get a lot more yield per bed.

[00:15:59] Knowing your yield on each crop and how much you can get. Each bed will really help you determine your crop planning and your succession planning for future seasons. And this will come with time and experience and record keeping. And as you get better, you can increase your yields. Now, a lot of people ask me about, you know, can you get more than one cut on lettuce, for example?

[00:16:18] And what I like to say is I only plan on one cut. And if I get a second cut, it's just kind of bonus. Now in the warmer months, I don't even think about a second. Cut. I cut the, I harvest the lettuce and it comes out something else goes in right away because the later cuts is, well, the summertime, no way for lettuce, but the later cuts on any crop is going to be usually less yield and slightly less quality.

[00:16:40] And for me, I always focus on getting the best quality to my customers. Now, if I cut the lettuce, and I come back in a couple of weeks, and it is looking good, then yes, I will use it, but I don't plan on it, if that makes sense. It's kind of like a bonus thing for me. And I'll get into more of that with the harvesting module.

[00:16:56] Now there's other techniques with certain crops, like thin harvesting, which I do for beets. So I'll go through and just pull just the big ones out so I can get a. And then in the next few weeks, the small ones will grow to bigger ones. And so that allows me to harvest off one bed for multiple weeks.

[00:17:11] But of course, if you need a whole bed coming out at once, you can't do that. But I don't think it's carrots. Like I won't usually harvest a whole bed of carrots in one week. I'll go through and just take what I need. So, you know, that will depend a lot on how much you need for each week and how much you can get off each bed, going back to knowing your yields.

[00:17:28] Some things are continual harvest. So some things like, you know, tomatoes, you'll be harvesting for a long time off the same bed. And then other things like kale, like full-size kale, I can harvest off that for an extended period of time. So you have to learn each crop and what your yields are going to be.

[00:17:42] And keep in mind that some crops, you just crop the whole thing out, and sometimes you can continuously crop it for a while.

[00:17:52] Interplanting can also be a great way to increase the output on your farm. And this is a more advanced technique. And I'll talk about this a little bit in the interplanting module. It is a way to increase the output and increase the diversity in your soil, which is important for creating living soil. But it's not a beginner technique.

[00:18:07] And I don't recommend doing that until you really master all the crops that you're putting into one bed and learn how they affect each other and their days to maturity. I can't stress this enough, keep records. And I am, as I said, not great about doing this, but if you can keep track of when you plant something, when you harvest it, and the yields that you get, you can then use that for future seasons to determine your crop planning and know what you can expect out of each crop at a certain time of year.

[00:18:31] And that will be invaluable, valuable for you as you develop your crop plan and grow your farm business. Experimentation should be kept to a minimum. Don't go crazy with it, but it's always good to experiment a little bit because you always want to be tweaking things along the way. But as I said, in my crop selection, video module, make sure that you're starting with a small amount of crops learning how to grow them well and learning.

[00:18:53] How to expect what you should get out of them. And that way you can use that to build your crop plan and have beds that are really full and have the maximum money yield for your farm business.

[00:19:03] Have some flexibility with your crop plan. As I said, in my sort of personal crop plan, you know, I planned my transplants and then I use direct seeding to fill in. Also, have extra starts around extra transplants because crops fail. Also, you could direct seed something and it would have, you know, spotty germination, you can fill that in with head lettuce or something like that. So having some extra starts is always really helpful. Keep your beds full, make sure you have a maximum yield whenever possible.

[00:19:27] So you can be making as much money for your farm business. Lots of great stuff coming up and remember, live Q and A's every Monday at 3:00 PM Eastern, we'll be going over the module from the few days prior. The next module, module eight will be all about tunnels. So hope to see you then.

[00:19:46] Diego Footer: There you have it, farmer Josh Sattin talking about Crop planning that was module seven of the sat and hill farm course we have about 11 or 12 more modules to go. So if you're enjoying the series, there's a lot more to come. If you want to watch the video presentation of this module, you can do so using the link below. And if you want additional resources for this module and all the other modules you can do.

[00:20:09] So at paper,, which I've also linked to below. Thanks for listening until next. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.


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