Boring through a mountain of decisions

Tiny Farm Duluth will occupy a mere seventh of an acre in 2017, but this year’s farm plan has me planting and harvesting approximately 200 beds throughout a 30-week season. The sheer volume of decisions required for such an ambitious plan—one that has me shooting for a $14,000 profit—is shocking. Paralysis by analysis is a real danger. The air is thick with the future.

Today I top myself off with a quart of the past, in an effort to help me move forward while remaining firmly in the present. This comes in the form of a green smoothie, partially made from the products of last year’s photosynthesis: kale, beets, and some beet greens. Perhaps this year I might even shepherd 20,000 or so bees in order to produce the honey used as sweetener.

Six days into my first batch of microgreens: radish, pea shoots, and sunflower shoots. I have lots to learn about how to grow these efficiently. They can be very profitable, but their high price point presents some challenges. For now I’ll work on mastering the process. Their 10-12 day crop cycle affords ample learning opportunities, however. Compare this to growing potatoes, for example, which only allow a new farmer to experience one crop per season.

Just one thing about farming has caught me completely off-guard. It isn’t the endless work or all-consuming lifestyle. Rather, it’s the dizzying array of choices that every farmer confronts every single day. Sometimes these are educated guesses, or even coin flips. More often than not, hundreds of decisions are made after enduring pain-staking thought, exhaustive research, and consultation with others.

What type of irrigation system should I use? What specific products should be purchased to support this choice? How should the city lot I am leasing be carved up to yield as many garden beds as possible?

After a long period of deliberation, which included numerous mistakes and inefficiencies last season, I have settled on a standard bed size: 30 inches wide X 25 feet long. Several hours spent with graph paper, a pencil, and ruler, has shown that I can fit 60 of these beds onto the land I’ve been graciously allowed to farm (often separated by a mere six inches of walkway between them!). These will be managed biointensively (a fancy word for a style of organic farming that focuses on achieving maximum yields with a small land base), and turned over numerous times throughout the season.

farm 2
My flagship plot on leased land, early in 2016’s growing season. I’m changing up the configuration considerably. Check out the graph below. Rectangle measures 93’x36′.

It sounds crazy to somehow cram a crop plan that has me planting 200 individual plantings into just 60 physical beds. All this abundance through successive planting. Something I’m completely new at….

I figure I can pack 36 beds into the rectangle by aligning them the other direction, and leaving 6 inches between them! The three-foot walkways are a necessary sacrifice. Once I become more established, after another year or two, a longer bed-length could be more desirable. That is, if the property owner doesn’t come up with other plans.

It all comes down to the plan, a massive spreadsheet containing an impressive amount of data: specific crops, proposed prices for each, weekly sales goals by crop throughout a 30-week season, days to maturity from seed, average yield per bed for each crop, and much more.

So many decisions to make! What to plant, and when to plant it (as many as 26 times throughout the season for some crops), and where.

With all these choices directed at a relative amateur, numerous failures are inevitable. It might even be my chief crop!

These failures will be the seeds of wisdom. Hopefully they fall upon fertile ground. Fear of failure prevents too many of us from getting started in the first place, and we desperately need more people actively doing what they love.

And so, I implore you to get started today. Don’t spend the next quarter century reading about your passion, vainly attempting to become an expert before broadcasting any real seed. Think of all the teachers you have known who said they knew nothing about their profession prior to their student teaching assignment. Read just one book, preferably next week, and get started on a small scale as soon as possible.

With automation and outsourcing looming on the horizon of nearly every industry, you simply must prepare yourself. Even if your job lasts you through the decades, you’ll have enriched yourself while honing a hobby that could potentially provide a side income in retirement. At the very least, it’ll help keep your mind active and engaged. It also has the potential to keep you plugged into your community in a more meaningful way.

Think of this as your parachute, one that you may or may not hope to use someday. Believe me, and I speak from experience here, you’ll be sorely glad you have one if you ever need it. Layoffs generally occur without notice, and when you least expect it. Begin preparing today!


3 thoughts on “Boring through a mountain of decisions

  1. I wish you tons of good vibes as spring approaches and you begin your journey! The farmer’s life is somewhat lonely and sooo hard! May the force be with you!!!!

  2. Great thoughts Eddy. SJR

    On Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 11:36 AM, Ed’s Big Adventure wrote:

    > Eddy Gilmore posted: “Tiny Farm Duluth will occupy a mere seventh of an > acre in 2017, but this year’s farm plan has me planting and harvesting > approximately 200 beds throughout a 30-week season. The sheer volume of > decisions required for such an ambitious plan—one that has me ” >

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